Tag Archive: Berghain


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New York duo Blondes released their self-titled debut album last year to much acclaim, it even made number seven on my Top Ten Alternative Releases of 2012 list. That album tapped into influences ranging from Steve Reich’s minimalism, to house music via Cluster kosmiche musique. On “Swisher” the duo take a subtly different direction leaning much harder on more obvious dance beats and sounds.

The album opener has a familiar feel to the first album though the percussion is heavy and grows in intensity as the track climax’s giving way to the techno shuffle of ‘Bora Bora’. The track combines a techno beat complete with distant snare, deep bass drum and insistent hi-hats with busy percussion, a minimal bell-like synth melody and creaky yet metallic synth slivers. Despite its title, alluding to tropical climbs ‘Bora Bora’ is one of the darker tracks that are sprinkled across the album. ‘Andrew’ takes things to a more upbeat and house vibe with it lithe four to the floor beat and sighing female vocal sample. The track’s main melody appears after a couple of minutes suggesting a different emotion, sadness, though the track swings back to a more positive feel with the riser and filter sweep effects that dominate its final minutes.

Next up is ‘Poland’ arguably Blondes best track to date to. It begins with an echoing acid synth bass line and four to the floor bass drum, swiftly followed by chattering, fast hi-hats and a synth arpeggio. Around three minutes in a glassy synth melody and new purposeful blocky synth bass enter giving the track remained purpose. The track continues to grow and oush forward until around six minutes in when everything drops away leaving just the drums, synth bass line and the delayed occasional synth swirl to slow ease the track out. Its followed by the energetic and incredibly percussive ‘Clasp’ (even the synths are percussive) which is another track that has a darken, colder edge than previous Blondes tracks. ‘Rei’ takes the dark edge to its logically conclusion with a punishing almost industrial techno beat playing beneath rushing synth arpeggios and pads that whooshing and bubble up over the top of the beat. Definitely a track that could hold its own in techno Mecca Berghain. The album closes with ‘Elise’ with its fizzing and whirring synths, a four to the floor bass drum (woody, acoustic), a sunrise synth pad and insistent electronic cowbell. Later in the track s synth bass line drops, swiftly followed by a clap, creating a house feel.

Though “Swisher” doesn’t feel as good as Blondes debut track for track and I miss the kosmiche musique touches “Swisher” is a solid collection with a few great highlights (‘Poland’, ‘Clasp’ and ‘Rei’). The duo have both made steps forward towards a new darker direction and shown they can make more conventional dance tracks but maybe lost a little of what made them stand out in the first place.   

Kirsty’s Reviews

Disappointment of the month

Michael Mayer – “Mantasy” (Kompakt)

Michael Mayer’s “Mantasy” opens with ‘Sully’ a panoramic, ambient track whose romantic feel utilises chimes, circling textures and floating strings. However this is a lone standout in an otherwise disappointing album. The central tracks ‘Baumhaus’, ‘Rudi Was A Punk’ and ‘Voigt Kampff Test’ pass by without providing interest for a listener and are utterly forgettable. ‘Baumhaus’ is an irritating mix of Disney birdsong, harps and woodwind that sounds like an inadvertent parody of the soundtrack music Mayer was inspired by. The title tracks fair’s no better, its Italo disco rhythm, spiky bass line and simplistic, cloying synth melody is again annoying in its unadventurous and overly repetitive nature. The track is close to insulting by its inclusion on a commercial album. Other tracks are not worth commenting on such is their deficiency in imagination, charm, emotion or energy. “Mantasy” is so indistinct and beige that after ten tracks this listener has being bled dry trying to like it or find something complimentary to say.

Dino Sabatini – “Shaman’s Path” (Prologue)

Dino Sabatini’s album “Shaman’s Path” is a ten track expedition through his ‘personal interpretation of the sounds of Africa’. Consisting of entrancing drum patterns and slow-moving hypnotic textures that are firmly rooted in the basis of deep, atmospheric techno “Shaman’s Path” isn’t a club-orientated album. Throughout the release, Sabatini deploys an atavistic and at times sensual mood.  Drum smacks sound like skin being slapped and entrancing melodies unfold on rolling bass lines. Propulsive, dubby loops and mysterious atmospheres combine with rough textures, thickly layered wooden percussion and syncopated bass drums. The sinister album opener ‘Soul Capture’ sounds like a subterranean cave exploration, the primal cries on the minimal ‘Ritual’ create an unsettling, claustrophobic feeling while the droning, reverberating techno of ‘Parallel Perception’ and ‘Totem’ recall Scuba’s work. The heavy processing of metallic scrapes and rattling beats in ‘White Witch’ are underpinned by creative use of African percussion that stretches far beyond simply throwing Djembe samples over a house loop. While “Shaman’s Path” is presented as Sabatini’s version of the continent’s sounds do not think of it as a safari or a flight over the Sahara. Sabatini takes us into an Africa at nightfall, an environment that is dense and almost suffocating with humidity. The album’s beautifully sequenced tracks possess a thoughtful, experimental character and the album’s focused style creates a cohesiveness collection and a seriousness that makes each track, each detail feel more profound. Little changes in the album’s fixed narrative with hypnotic atmospheres only counteracted by Sabatini’s extraordinary sound design. It is an album listeners have to concentrate on and allow it to envelope the room but if you follow the “Shaman’s Path” it will go the distance.

Release of the Month

Norman Nodge – Berghain 06 (Ostgut Ton)

Perhaps the most reserved member of the Ostgut Ton/Berghain unit is Norman Nodge, who considers himself a family man foremost, a lawyer second and DJ last. Since 2005 Norman has played the Berghain floor monthly and has several releases on fellow Berghain DJ Marcel Dettmann’s MDR label and on Ostgut Ton. Nodge’s style often combines classic Detroit and UK techno with Chicago house and touches of avant-garde or ambient sounds, which infuse his mixes with cleverly contrasting softer and harder shades. It’s not surprising that “Berghain 06”, which was recorded live in the eponymous building, is constructed on these many elements. The renowned Jeff Mills’ ‘Keeping Of The Kept’ sits alongside the work of younger producers like Patrick Gräser (Answer Code Request) and the secretive Birds Two Cage. Gräser’s ‘From Foreign Territories’ is one of three exclusive unreleased tracks on this mix; the others coming courtesy of the aforementioned Birds Two Cage and Mark Broom. Nodge stretches the typically cold concrete and sandpaper textures of the Berghain sound to include lighter tracks in the form of Architectural’s ‘Looking Ahead’ and a warm Mokira remix by the always popular Redshape. With arguably the most varied track listing for a Berghain mix yet, Nodge is convincing in his courage to try new combinations. The listener is taken from the mellow beginnings of ‘Gase’ by Birds Two Cage whose warm ambient washes are followed by a percussive battering from Oni Ayhun. “Berghain 06” then kicks into gear with Patrick Gräser’s ‘From Foreign Territories’. Its relentless, determined beats and see-sawing beeps crank up the pressure until it reaches a peak time explosion with Hauntologists, Staffan Linzatti and the Jeff Mills track weaving into the mix. Next are the dark but jacking beats of Silent Servant’s scratchy ‘Untitled A1’ and a Planetary Assault Systems remix for The Nighttripper. Architectural’s ‘Looking Ahead’ moves the mix into a rich, darkly atmospheric direction; perfect for Norman Nodge’s DJ style. Mark Broom’s exclusive track ‘Vault 5’ is a techno workout to push heart rates up. ‘New York Minds’ by Tim Taylor & DJ Slip lightens the mood with a touch of rap vocals underneath a pulsing electro beat. Nodge continues to move into a playfully hypnotic territory. A squelchy El Gato #9 track picks up the pace while a flying Radioactive Man cut reconnects the listener with the blissful start of “Berghain 06”.  The final track, Legowelt’s incredible remix of “Rainy Day Juno Jam” by Xosar gives the mix that little bit of something extra and beautiful to close the chapter.

Liam’s Reviews

Disappointment of the Month

Sinkane – “Mars” (DFA)

The debut album by Sinkane kicks off with the delicious wah-wah funky guitar, shuffling hi-hats, walking bass line and high and air vocals of ‘Runnin’ a superb pop nugget to open “Mars” with. The quality stays high for ‘Jeeper Creeper’ with its Afrobeat guitar melody, subtle hand percussion, and bass guitar which underpin psychedelic synths and guitar chords that echo out with long delays creating a hypnotic effect. However, Sinkane takes his first misstep on ‘Lady C’mon’ with heavy use of Vocoder spoiling the lush backing track. ‘Makin’ Time’ is worse with Vocoder and cheesy lead guitar and saxophone, spoiling a well put together lush back tracking. Things pick up again with the funky African tinged guitar of ‘Warm Spell’ and jungle atmospheres and great horns of ‘Love Sick’. Things go awry again on the title track which can only be described as a jazz nightmare. The album finishes with its longest and most meditative track ‘Caprundi’. Though there are some tracks on “Mars” such as ‘Runnin’ a majority of the album feels like a disappointment, however it will be interesting to see Sinkane develop in the future.

Peter Broderick – “These Walls of Mine” (Erased Tapes)

The latest album from Peter Broderick is his most ambitious yet and it doesn’t fail to impress. Broderick augments his usual instrumentation of piano, violin, guitar, bass and drums with full utilisation of studio technology, especially with relation to his vocals. This playful experimentation is what makes Broderick stand out instead of sounding like yet another singer-songwriter and he never sacrifices a good tune for the sake of this experimenting. The album opens with ‘Inside Out There’s distant delayed vocal and guitar loop before Broderick’s lead vocals and harmonies enter. He adds violins and melting synth riff around 2 minutes in to enrich the track. The single ‘I’ve Tried’ use all of the tools in Broderick’s box expertly employing echoing drums, subtle bass guitar, reverberate vocals, a synth pad and in the latter half of the track his trademark violin. Next up is the minimal ‘Proposed Solution to the Mystery of Soul’ which simple features Broderick singing over his own humming, occasional percussion and watery sounds, it’s an uncomplicated but brilliantly effective track. Things step up a notch on ‘When I Blank I Blank’ with its deep funk bass and rhythm guitar and hip-hop beat, a new style for Broderick that he tackles with aplomb. On the next on two tracks Broderick gets creative the first ‘These Walls of Mine I’ is a spoken word track, ‘These Wall of Mine II’ adds busy piano, violin and hip-hop with Broderick reciting the same lyrics again, a nice trick that works a treat. The next track ‘I Do This’ uses the two vocal techniques speaking over the verses section and singing the chorus’. Overall “These Walls of Mine” is Broderick most ambitious album yet and it may prove to be his best yet with some time to fully process its complex and diverse songs. For it recalls Jamie Lidell’s “Compass” (2010) an album full of similarly complex and diverse yet accessible songs that experimented within the constraints of popular music. If you’re already a fan of Broderick’s work you’ll find plenty to satisfy you here, if you’re not it then try “www.itstartshear.com” from earlier this year, which combines Broderick’s trademark sound with the beginnings of ideas that are expand upon on this release.

Black Moth Super Rainbow – “Cobra Juicy” (Rad Cult)

“Cobra Juicy” is Black Moth Super Rainbow’s (BMSR) fifth studio album and their first to be self released. Initially much of the album sounds like the band’s previous material, but repeat plays reveals the subtle differences. In fact, the opener and single ‘Windshield Smasher’ opens with a glam rock beat a first for the band before corroded guitar stabs, then vocodered reverb heavy lead vocals and light synth arpeggio kick off the song proper. ‘Like A Sundae’ recalls the band’s poppier moments with its summery vibes. The dirty guitar stabs return for ‘Hairspray Heart’ accompanied by the band’s trademark Vocoder and head nodding hip-hop beats. ‘Psychic Love Damage’ and ‘We Burn’ introduce country guitar to the band’s sound blending it with down beat drums, analogue synth and light use of Vocoder. ‘Gangs in the Garden’ improves on the BMSR template with funky synth bass, ghostly melodies and a head nodding hip-hop beat. ‘The Healing Power of Nothing’ and ‘Dreamsicle Bomb’ create a more minimal and echo variation on BMSR template before ‘I Think I’m Evil’ returns the band to distorted lo-fi hip-hop territory. The albums close out with the ghostly synth and soar away chorus of ‘Blurring My Day’ (surly a future single) and the Flaming Lips inspired sweeping synthetic pop of ‘Spraypaint’. All-in-all BMSR have delivered another great album full of surreal, horror influenced lo-fi pop.

The Herbaliser – “There Were Seven” (Department H)

The Herbaliser return with their first album in four years and the band are back on form after the solid but unspectacular “Same As It Never Was” (2008). On that album it seemed as if the band was trying to evolve their sound into a more commercial soul inspired direction. However, now they return to their classic cinematic funk and hip-hop sound while also finding ways of moving it forward. As early as the opening track ‘Return of the Seven’ fuzz guitar is the first new element to introduce itself, the band then sprinkle this sound liberal across the albums remaining tracks. Next up is ‘The Lost Boy’ a down tempo smoky jazz number that reminds me of ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ the title track of band’s brilliant 2002 album. ‘Welcome to Extravagence’ shows the band’s next evolution with its lush, ripping distorted guitar swoops, heavy beats, dub delay and siren. It’s the first time the band have attempted a dub track and it’s 100% successful even adding the band’s signature cinematic sounds and modern production. ‘Mother Dove’ picks up where ‘Welcome to Extravagence’ finishes take with it the lush, ripping distorted guitar swoops and slowly adding in a string section its quickly followed beat box beats and a strong lead violin line. Later in the track twanging guitars, another layer of drums and combative synth bass up the tension. The final twist comes when the track breaks down to acidic synth, piano, drums and vocal sample before a theremin melody and the guitars return leading the string lead outro. Next up is ‘Zero Hill’ the first of three upbeat hip-hop tracks featuring Canadian rap duo Twin Peaks. Next up is ‘Take ‘Em On’ a classic piece of Herbaliser chase music with flighty flute and honky and skronking brass taking the lead. There are a few more tracks in the classic Herbaliser style – the emotive synths, deep space bass and cutting scratches of ‘Setting Up’, ‘What You Asked For’s cinematic stylings and ‘Move As One’ with its desolate guitar chords, wobbling organ, pumping bass, break bat and French melody, all recall vintage Herbaliser moments. There’s one final evolutionary move by the band and it’s the duo of horror film referencing tracks ‘March of the Dead Things’ and ‘Deep in the Woods’. Overall “There Were Seven” is a stunning addition to the Herbaliser’s back catalogue, the band show they both move forward and deliver tracks in their classic style maintaining a balance that keeps everyone happy.

Ekoplekz – “Intrusive Incidentalz Vol.2” (Punch Drunk)

“Intrusive Incidentalz Vol.2” picks where last year’s “Vol.1” had left with much experimental and delay drenched analogue synth textures bouncing around your stereo. However, there are subtle changes in the sound employed on that previous edition. In fact, subtle is the key word here with Ekoplekz using subtler sounds and a lot less of his trademark scathing synth sounds than usual. He allows the tracks to breath, there are more spaces between the delay and a return to the melodies that were much more prominent on his first album “Memowreckz”. ‘Trubshaw Test’ with its ascending synth melody underpinned by a descending bass line and ‘Effluvia’ with its bell like melody, hissy shifting synth sounds and sparse dub effects are both great examples of this more melodic approach. On both ‘Ultra Warble’ and ‘‘Abyss Ababa’ Ekoplekz threatens to add a four to the floor rhythm that both tracks are calling out for but at the last moment he just lets the momentum peter out, which is disappointing as the build up feels great but the pay off never comes. In a less competitive month “Intrusive Instrumentals Vol.2” would have been a Release of the Month, but instead this album has to settle for a well deserved joint third with Daphni.

Daphni – “Jiaolong” (Jiaolong)

“Jiaolong” is the debut album from Caribou aka Dan Snaith side project Daphni and is firmly ensconced on the dance floor. However, this isn’t a generic house record attempted by someone trying their luck at the genre. For start with the last Caribou album “Swim” Snaith attempted to make “liquid dance music” and for the most part succeed too. Plus, in a recent interview with FACT magazine revealed that he’d been clubbing and enjoying dance music since his teenage years back in Toronto. One of the tracks on the album ‘Ahora’ every sounds like something from “Swim” remixed by a DJ. The rest of the album separates itself from Caribou releases with a strong Afrobeat influence that’s applied directly on ‘Ne Noya’ and implied throughout the album, the album has a lighter and bouncier sound than Caribou has and feels supple and fluid throughout with bags of energy and grooves aplenty. Analogue synths and drum machines dominated every track and are expertly employed, giving every track a warm and dynamic feel. Highlights from the album include ‘Yes, I Know’ with its pumping house beat, driving, resonant acid synth bass, soulful vocal sample and up tempo horns, ‘Ne Noya (Daphni Mix)’ with its live drums and Afrobeat vibes, ‘Ye Ye’s buzzing synth bass, rattling hi-hats, bell-like melody and unpredictable and the irresistibly funky groove of ‘Springs’, though the remaining tracks are very good and will no doubt grow on listeners over time. “Jiaolong” is one of Snaith’s finest albums to date in a serious impressive back catalogue and gives strong competition to Blondes and Matthew Dear for the top dance music album of 2012.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” (Constellation)

Before I begin this review properly I should say that though I’ve admired Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s music since I first heard of them back in 1998, I’ve only heard a few of their songs and therefore can’t compare this album to their back catalogue.

The first album in ten years by Godspeed You! Black Emperor opens with the epic “Mladic” a 20 minute track that achieves more in its first half than most band’s achieve over a whole career. Its begins with feedback and a slowly looping spoken word sample then a guitar melody enters quickly followed by a violin and thumming bass, the song steadily gains in intensity the violin playing long held notes that simmer at the top of the mix, soon joined by out of tune and off beat guitar notes that act as a counterpart. Around 3 minutes 30 seconds in an acoustic guitar emerges providing a solid rhythm for the track. Again the track builds in intensity, with electric guitar ratcheting things up another notch. The drums finally kick in at 7 minutes and 30 seconds an almost Arabic guitar riff leading the way. This riff becomes gothic and sparser around 12 minutes in with the drums pounding and clattering away in the background. There’s a apocalyptic feeling break down at 13 minutes, before a drone begins at 16 mins with violins spiralling and guitar see-sawing above it. The track finally ends with harmonised guitar feedback and random clomping percussion. Second track ‘Their Helicopters Sing’ is a multi layered six and a half minute drone track utilises hissing noise, deep bass, agitated violin, wet guitar harmonics and what sounds like bag pipes to create a constantly shifting soundscape. ‘We Drifted Like Worried Fire’ is another 20 minute epic which starts with ghostly violin drone and melody before a third dreamy violin part takes the track to another level before giving way to a melodic guitar line and simple bass part. A minute later the drums come in bringing with them a sparse vibraphone melody, slow shifting noise guitar and finally a long arching violin melody. These ascend and build tension until a brief break down at eight and a half minutes. The second half of the song begins with a shift from intense guitar to the return of the violin this time back by orchestral sounding drums and percussion, at fourteen minutes this changes to a marching beat with cello and violin dominating distant shards of discordant guitar. Then at fifteen minutes the song suddenly backs free with guitar and violin leading a surge that continues (apart from a brief breakdown) to the songs climax five minutes later. The final track ‘Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable’ begins with long ascending drone that is slowly added to by what could a processed guitar or synth, this then gives way to crusty guitar chords and feedback that grow to a immense peak through the middle section of the song. A slow analogue synth drone takes the album to its conclusion. While I can’t compare this album to Godspeed’s earlier work I feel it’s safe to say they haven’t lost anything in the last decade and this album would stand next their first three. It’s a shame more band’s aren’t as ambitious and breath taking as Godspeed.

Top Release of the Month

Flying Lotus – “Until the Quiet Comes” (Warp)

The much anticipated new album by Flying Lotus starts as it means to go on with subtle shuffling beats of ‘All In’ with bells and chimes that lead the way harmonically and melodically. These elements become the glue that holds together this elemental, organic and sophisticated release from the highly regard Flying Lotus. For much of his career he has balanced ghetto fabulous beats, drum ‘n’ bass/UK Bass music undertow with his families’ roots in jazz and spiritual music and this continues on “Until the Quiet Comes”. However, it’s the cool jazz and calm spiritual music that is the dominate force whereas previously it had played second fiddle to the glitches, electronic breaks and huge bass rumble of the current music scene. Not that the modern glitches and deep penetrating bass lines and beats are absent, they just play a subtler supporting role with the exception of the ‘Sultan’s Request’ and its thick, brittle digital sounding synth bass, which gets twice as heavy in the second half of the track. The album also sees Flying Lotus utilising vocal samples and guest vocalists much more effectively, a particularly good example is Thom Yorke’s contribution to ‘Electric Candyman’ in which Yorke’s vocals are expertly and sparingly used, whereas they appeared anonymous on “…and the world laughs with you” from “Cosmogramma” (2010). “Until the Quiet Comes” initially feels like it might greater longevity than “Cosmogramma”, which though it really hit home on the first couple listens, its impact dulled over time. It was also a busy and demanding listen, whereas space is utilised throughout “Until the Quiet Comes”, which allows the listener to “fixate on any one sound and extract feeling from it.” Time will tell if this feeling becomes reality but one thing’s for sure Flying Lotus has delivered a more than worthy follow up to what often viewed as his masterpiece.

Kirsty’s Recommendations

2nd – vinyl / 16th – CD/digital

Dino Sabatini – Shaman’s Path (Prologue)

Dino Sabatini, whose name is on Prologue’s first 12” release, always delivers the German label’s audio aesthetic: deep, hypnotic, atmospheric and mind-driven. His album “Shaman’s Path” is his personal interpretation of the sounds of Africa. The release will be distributed by WordandSound. The CD is continuous track mix. The vinyl will include only the club oriented tracks from “Shaman’s Path” and the complete digital album contains all of the individual tracks. Stream the entire album courtesy of Prologue’s Bandcamp here:

15th October

Ben Klock “Fabric 66”

Klock is invariably introduced as a Berghain resident, having been a core member of the family surrounding the Berlin club since it opened in 2004. Along with like-minded artist Marcel Dettmann, he played a big part in shaping the signature sound of Berghain’s downstairs room: galloping, uncompromising techno, often delivered in stretches of eight hours or more.

“Fabric 66″ shows a slightly different side of Klock. “I didn’t want to include any of my ‘hits’ from my sets this time,” he says. “The idea is more that you have something to discover when you listen.” By interspersing straight techno tracks from the likes of Truncate, James Ruskin, Berghain brother Marcel Dettmann and DVS1 with understated selections from Trevino, Burial and Alva Noto, Klock shows the range that exists within his own style.

22nd October

Michael Mayer – “Mantasy” (Kompakt)

“Mantasy” is the second full-length from Köln DJ and producer Michael Mayer. His previous album, “Touch”, was put together in a matter of weeks and, with the benefit of hindsight, Mayer is displeased with its quick production so he is treating “Mantasy” as “the first one.” Aside from a steady stream of remixes, his last set of original productions was in 2007 with the “SuperMayer” album alongside Superpitcher. On the subject of the album’s sound Mayer says “Mantasy” “clearly reflects the gazillions of sounds I’m listening to in private, especially my love for soundtracks or soundtrack-like music.” Listen to the pre-release track ‘Good Times’, featuring Whomadewho’s vocalist Jeppe Kjellberg, here.

Berghain 06 – Norman Nodge (Ostgut Ton)

Perhaps the most reserved member of the Ostgut/Berghain unit is Norman Nodge, who considers himself a family man foremost, a lawyer second and DJ last. This month he will release the sixth installment in the impressive Berghain mix series. His years of experience show in his sets which tend to offset current techno with industrially-tinged ’90s releases (plus ambient, atmospheric techno or whatever else suits the mood). For someone accustomed to four-hour sets, Nodge crams a lot of variety into “Berghain 06”, coursing through experimental bits from Oni Ayhun to Jeff Mills, Silent Servant and recent cuts from Legowelt, Architectural and Ctrls (one half of Northern Structures). As with all installments in the “Berghain” and “Panorama Bar” series, “Berghain 06” features a handful of exclusive tracks that will be released on a 12″, due out on the same day as the mix. These come from Mark Broom and Patrick Gräser (aka Answer Code Request).

Liam’s Recommendations

1st October

Flying Lotus – “Until the Quiet Comes” (Warp)

“Until the Quiet Comes” features guest vocalists and musicians Erykah Badu, Thom Yorke, Thundercat, Niki Randa, Laura Darlington and Johnny Greenwood. Initial listens suggest a more sophisticated sound that balances both the organic and elemental with modern production and bass driven rhythms. FlyLo may well have delivered something as good as 2010’s “Cosmogramma” which made Sonic Fiction’s Album of the Year 2010. For more information on album including track listing and tour dates click here.

6th October 2012

Ekoplekz – “Instrusive Incidentalz” Vol.2″(Punch Drunk)

Ekoplekz returns to Punch Drunk the label that made his name for the follow to “Instrusive Incidentalz Vol.1” (2011). The label describes the release as “the concluding part of Ekoplekz’s collection of dark, oppressive atmospheres and violently unstable interludes, inspired by childhood memories of terrifying electronic soundtrack music from the 1970s. Developed through studio improvisation and channelling a sense of dread informed by the social, economic and political climate of life in 2012, Ekoplekz has delivered some of his finest, most vivid work to date.” For the tracklisting of “Instrusive Incidentalz Vol.2” click here.

8th October

Daphni – “Jiaolong” (Jiaolong)

Daphni is a recently activated side project of Caribou aka Dan Snaith, an outlet for his dance floor inspired ideas. The album comes off the back of a series of critically acclaimed singles and remixes and FACT magazine have already gone as far as to say “Dan Snaith has made classic albums before as Caribou, but his first full-length under Daphni, his dancefloor alias, looks like it could end up his very best yet”.

The Herbaliser – “There Were Seven” (Department H)

Hip-hop and cinematic funk duo the Herbaliser release their seventh studio album on their own Department H label this October. The duo’s recently releases showcased a cleaner and more streamlined commercial sound but earlier this year they hinted that they were keen to return to their earlier sound and sample based working method. The album also features Canadian rap duo Twin Peaks who recently toured with The Herbaliser’s full band line-up. This is act that constantly delivers and so this is a much anticipated release for me.

15th October

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” (Constellation)

The new Godspeed album is their first for a decade and since reforming for live dates back in 2010. According to the press release it will pick up where the band left off with “Yanqui U.X.O.” back in 2002, as much of the material was first worked on shortly after the release of that album. The album features two extended tracks (around 22  minutes each) from 2002, joined by two drone pieces that are six and a half minutes in length. Whatever it sounds like its exciting to have Godspeed back!!

22nd October

Black Moth Super Rainbow – “Cobra Juicy” (Rad Cult)

The new album from by the masters of lo-fi electronic beat heavy psychedelia Black Moth Super Rainbow is ready to be released as the band passed their target on Kickstarter. Aswell as the usual formats the band will release the album in the form of a back lite latex mask with the album and associated music and videos on USB stick that acts as a tooth in the mask’s mouth.

Sinkane – “Mars”(DFA)

The latest signing to DFA Records Sudanese born New York based Sinkane made a new for himself as a touring instrumentalist with Yeasayer, Caribou and Of Montreal and now releases his debut solo album. “Mars” features collaborations with Twin Shadow, Yeasayer’s Ira Wolf Tuton, Roberto Lange of Helado Negro, Oliver Chapoy (Shai Hulud, Warm Ghost), Afrobeat band Nomo, and Stutzmcgee.

31st October

A$AP Rocky – “LongLiveA$AP” (Polo Grounds Music/RCA)

The highly anticipated and much delayed debut album by the MC who showed so much potential last year on the “LiveLoveA$AP” mixtape. Production comes from Clams Casino, Hit Boy, A$AP Ty Beats, Soufein3000, Joey Fat Beats and Rocky himself.

“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.

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