Tag Archive: Berlin


Liam’s Top Ten Albums of the Year… so far

Honourable Mentions

Peaking Lights – “936” – is  a lo-fi take on Dub that manages to cover a lot more ground than many of their more lauded peers. I can understand why the band have been compared to fellow Not Not Fun artist Sun Araw as they share many of his similar aesthetics (humid, reverb and delay heavy sound) and principle instrumentation (extended guitar lines, organ, repetitive but meandering vocals). Tom Tom Club also seems like a good reference point particularly for the vocals and ‘All the Sun That Shines’ and ‘Bird of Paradise (Dub Version)’. Definitely an album that’s worthy of soundtracking this summer like ‘On Patrol’ by Sun Araw soundtracked last summer.

Mogwai – “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will” – a mixed bag from Mogwai (a band that has been criticised in the past for producing overly samey music across an album) featuring both the familiar epic post-rock tracks that made them an internationally known force and new directions for the band including using a vocoder and development of Neu! and New Order style rhythms and grooves on ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ and ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’. I’ve read a lot of negative things about the use of the vocoder and more vocal tracks on this album and can’t say I agree with these opinions. The vocoder is employed subtly and sparingly and Stuart Braithwaite’s vocals have always been a good addition to Mogwai’s music and suit the song he sings on here. Overall I think this is Mogwai’s best album since ‘Happy Music for Happy People’ (2003).

Talib Kweli – “Gutter Rainbows” –  a return to form for Kweli after the overly commercial and guest heavy ‘Eardrum’  (2007). Kweli seems to more at ease and freer, the album’s tone and variety a sign that he may have been under pressure from Warners while making ‘Eardrum’. It’s also telling that all the guests and producers who appear on this album aren’t established major label artists/producers and I think that’s a big contributing factor. The quality on the album only really drops once for ‘How Do You Love Me’ which is a little too limp and sloppy amongst tracks that have a lot more bit and depth. The major highlights are ‘Cold Rain’ (production by Currency producer Ski Beats) and Jean Grae’s appearance on ‘Uh Oh’, however its Kweli whose personality comes across strongest, on what could be his best album yet.

Beastie Boys – “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two”

The Beasties Boys return to form after two patchy albums, full of short punchy songs that for the most part share a minimalist, lo-fi approach. It’s the Beasties gone back to basics and with found a new lease of life that explores new territory (for them) while remaining 100% Beastie Boys. Established with love this, new converts may well join the cause – all in all a triumph from restless creators always looking to evolve.

Dels – “GOB”

Dels has produced an authoritative début album that balances catchy, memorable tunes with experimentation, unexpected twists and turns and a signature sound that he can manipulate to give the album a curve. He starts with the heavy hitting, bouncy electro inspired tracks but the second half to that album covers more serious topics including the recent political problems in the U.K. and rape. Dels is able to change the pace and the atmosphere to suit these changes in subject and this is proof of an artist with more than one string to his bow and great future ahead of him. A Hip-Hop artist with substance to match his unique style.

Top Ten

10. White Denim – “D” – Though it may not be the album of the year I rashly predicted at the start of the month, though it has to be said ‘Anvil Everything’ and ‘Drug’ were pretty exciting tracks to be released in the run up to release. However this album is by no means a wash-out, it begins with a slightly misleading slice of Southern Rock but some reveals a diverse range from an ever developing and maturing band. From the wah-wah funk of ‘Burnished’ to the emotional ‘Street Joy’ via Latin rhythms of ‘River to Consider’ and many points in between this album is well worth investigation and like other White Denim album will probably prove to be another grown, rewarding repeated listening.

9. Low – “C’Mon” – A great album of two halves that sees Low experimenting with poppier sounds on the first half of the album and on ‘Something Turning Over’ while the reminder of the album revisits older sounds and influences but does so while providing some great songs. Some Low fans won’t (and don’t) like the poppier material but I think it can be seen as another string to their bow and not a conscious attempt to sell out. This is not a band producing Top Ten hits, but one dripping its toe into unknown waters and successful completing an experiment. The fact this album was recorded in a Duluth (Low’s home town) church gives the slow more open tracks and fantastic atmosphere and ambience and complaints some great songs. Once again Low show the patience and subtlety can go along way in a music world that seems constantly looking for something innovative and over simulating.

8. Chancha Via Circuito – “Rio Arriba” – A great hip-hop album that potential points a new way forward and demonstrates that there are really skilled producers working out the mainstream and America who can compete with their U.S. contemporaries. A breath of fresh Columbian air, this producer neatly side steps the comparisons to Jay Dilla to crave out his own unique style.

7. Tamikrest – “Toumastin” – Another great Taurag (desert blues) album that throws down the gauntlet to Tinariwen (whose next album is out 29th August). Though there’s a lot of familiarity to the Tamikrest sound these young men find a way of subtlety incorporating new influences into the template. From the funk bass that underpins ‘Tidit’ and ‘Tarhamanine Assinegh’ to the Western rock guitar of ‘Adjan Adaky’ and magnificent closer ‘Dihad Tedoun Itran’via the regular and clever employment of female vocals as a counterpoint to a very male sound, this shows there is more to Taurag than fans already know. The band masterful conquers both the more groovy based and moody and downbeat material with confidence and ease. A great album from a band full ideas and possible yet to reach their full potential.

6. TV on the Radio – ‘Nine Types of Light’ – This acts as a laid back sunny counterpart to their previous album ‘Dear, Science’ (2008). However, this isn’t an album that should be considered light or lacking in substance. Instead it’s a successful move into new territory for a band that continues to develop, improve and with this show that may just be one of the best bands of the last ten years. The album’s brighter moments indicates a softer R&B influence though in the latter stages of the album the band show their darker side on tracks like ‘Forgotten’ that strongly reminds me of the dense atmosphere of second album ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’  (2006) but always demonstrates what they have learnt since about space and light and shade. An album that proves sweet and sour can co-exist and that light is variable alternative not corporate cop-out.

5. Paris Suit Yourself – “My Main Shitstain”‘ – An eclectic début album is held together by a similarly punk spirit and commanding vocalist Luvinsky. The band produce a unique blend of street music that takes from soul, punk, post-punk and hip-hop while subtle embracing modern technology. The band is unafraid to wear to heart politically and graphically on its sleeve and are obviously confident in their own ability and style!! The world is there’s and I fully expect them to take it and make it their own.

4. Toro Y Moi – “Underneath the Pine” – From its chiming and droning intro track right through to the last rhythmic charge of ‘Elise’, it does no wrong. A fantastic concoction of ’80s style funk rhythms and grooves matched with emotive soundtrack backing, expert use of effects processing and the glorious rush of good pop music, a leap forward from his impressive début ‘Causers of This’. In the past its been difficult to pin down Toro Y Moi’s sound and find useful reference points but recently mid 90’s Stereolab seems apt for this playful experiment in pop music.

3. Wagon Christ – “Toomorrow” – It would be easy to dismiss this album as a repetition of everything that Vibert has done as Wagon Christ and there is some truth to that. However, he has produced an eclectic album full of great tracks (there’s not a duffer to be found) that will please hardcore Vibert fans and those new to this long-term dance music fixture. A must for fans of Ninja Tune, Warp and Planet Mu most esoteric output!!

2. tUnE-yArDs – “w h o k i l l” – tUnE-yArDs delivers on what was hinted at on her début album ‘Bird-Brains’, strong vocal performances and use of vocal layers are an ever-present as are the hip-hop rhythms that dominated her début. She also brings a host of surprises, the processing of vocals through a modular synth, pop melodies that pack a punch and day-glo indebted to both African music and dub yet at the same time all of her own. Though the album dips towards the end ‘Doorstop’ and ‘You, Yes You’ show there are yet more directions in which tUnE-yArDs sound can be developed. All-in-all a great album from a unique artist.

1. Gang Gang Dance – “Eye Contact” –  A breathtakingly ambitious album that brings together North African guitars, club beats, Indian pop vocals, grime and electro synth bass, twisted synth arpeggios are all bought together and work where it should fail spectacularly. There’s a new found clarity and a massive step-up in the quality of the tunes on ‘Eye Contact’ this is the record that their last album should have been and impress instant, whereas in the past songs were either growers or too awkward to be properly embraced. Interestingly after a few listens it becomes clear there’s some strong links to “Merriweather Post Pavilion” by Animal Collective (who are both friends and contemporaries of Gang Gang Dance) the use of psychedelic electronics and rhythms rooted in hip-hop are present on both albums. However, Gang Gang Dance add plenty to this and produce their own unique sound. An interest coincidence is that “Merriweather Post Pavilion” was Sonic Fiction’s Album of the Year 2009 and this is currently in poll position for this year. Will it still be No.1 in December?

Spotify playlist:

Liam’s Albums of the Year 2011 … so far

Vier’s Top Five Albums of the Year 2011… so far

5. Lucy – “Wordplay For Working Bees” (Stroboscopic Artefacts) Lucy bypasses the traditional form and structure of techno for his début album. IDM, drones, oblique ambience and dub-techno combine to create a foreboding atmosphere filled with unusual timbres and textures. Partly composed of field recordings from Berlin’s streets and parks, the album’s title plays on the busyness of the crowds assembled on the city streets. The recordings tangle amongst disembodied vocals and abstract noises which build a sense of dissonant melancholia. When the 4/4 rhythm of  ‘Bein’ breaks out of the ambient climate it feels exotic and somehow forbidden as does album closer ‘Ter’ which filled with pattering percussion building to a stunning, hypnotic climax that contrasts the album’s darkness.

4. Planningtorock – “W” (DFA) Planningtorock’s (Janine Rostron) second album is rooted in the expression of her sexuality, which is conveyed by the swagger and sweaty atmosphere that recall the cabaret clubs in her adopted home of Berlin. The lascivious drawl of her pitched-down voice (as demonstrated with: “I know my feelings” on opener ‘Doorway’ and “I’m a believer of circular/suckular love” on ‘Manifesto’) coupled with staccato strings and thick, sensual orchestration makes “W” a powerful and rewarding release.

3. Morphosis – “What Have We Learned” (Delsin/Morphine) Composed entirely with analogue equipment and recorded over three days, Morphosis’ first full-length is a collection of gritty, percussive clatter that recalls the dirtier side of Krautrock. Built on round bass drums and foggy static with assertive grooves and synths that engulf the listener, “What Have We Learned” is the techno release of the year.

2. Gang Gang Dance – “Eye Contact” (4AD) Building from the suggestions of bright pop displayed on a track such as ‘House Jam’ from their previous album “Saint Dymphna”, Gang Gang Dance have condensed their eclecticism and strengthened the pop melodies to create a highly impressive and ambitious fifth album. Singer Lizzie Bougatsos works her voice as instrument, in a way that justly recalls Karin Dreijer Andersson and Bjork, weaving it among the layers of polyrhythmic dance beats, electro-indebted synth riffs and glassy arpeggios. Key track ‘Mindkilla’ combines unhinged world-dance grooves with Bougatsos’ menacingly singing the lullaby ‘Mockingbird’, which encapsulates Gang Gang Dance’s approach for “Eye Contact”: ecstatic and woozy with an undercurrent of threat.

1. Nicolas Jaar – “Space Is Only Noise” (Circus Company) Much has been said of 22 year-old Jaar’s prodigious talent and his first album is rightly garnering critical acclaim. Blending Ricardo Villalobos-esque intricacy with jazz-influenced piano, super-slow techno rhythms, obscure French film dialogue, saxophone and Nicolas Jaar’s own surprisingly deep voice, the album is over-confident but endearingly so. At points coolly sexy (‘Keep Me There’ and the title track), delicate and wistful (‘Too Many Kids…’ ‘I Got A’) and ambient palate-cleansing washes “Space Is Only Noise” is a diverse, self-assured and engaging album and it is a testament to Jaar’s skill that he has delivered such a promising début in place of what could otherwise have been a pretentious clutter.

Honourable mentions:

Wolfgang Voigt – “Kafkatrax” (Profan) In typically eccentric fashion, Voigt has super-imposed his face on to Austrio-Hungarian writer Franz Kafka’s head for the artwork of Kafkatrax. The strange merge goes further with the music contained inside. Every sound except the bass drum is taken from a German audiobook of Kafka’s work, the samples of which Voigt has then sliced, layered and stretched to create several voices speaking in fragmented words and vowels. The abstract stratification of the samples re-produce the paranoia present in Kafka’s writing while Voigt’s experienced hand in intangible dance music knits the sounds into four alien yet groove-filled techno tracks.

http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/kafkatrax_1/embedded

http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/kafkatrax_2/embedded

Spotify playlist:

Vier’s Albums of the Year 2011… so far

Continuing from the opening section of Three Decades of Techno, the second will focus on techno’s development in Detroit and Germany during the 1990s and cover a selection of the artists and labels that made it happen. This was the decade when techno was both consolidated and fractured. As a musical form its identity and popularity strengthened, spreading to Europe and developing in the hands of the second generation of Detroit producers yet techno, the idea, became increasingly difficult to classify. Its precarious nature and dispersal across countries evaded definition. Its accidental formation resulting from an infrequent overlap of geography, technology, time and individuals, the division into subgenres and reactions to reactions can make the genre’s pinpointing its history challenging. This piece should provide a compact timeline of techno, clarify how new artists expanded the music and idea of the genre and why this matured so neatly in Germany.

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 existed 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 punctuated with iron bars in the redundant Wertheim Kaufhaus (once the largest in Europe), next to the Potsdamer Platz artery. The group took on their newly discovered space and named it Tresor (meaning 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. We found our style – it was definitely orientated towards minimal Detroit sounds, and then after a year and a half we had our own crowd.” Hegemann also felt a need to strengthen the connection between Berlin and Detroit. Tresor released several works by Detroit artists, starting with Underground Resistance’s project X-101 and the 1993 compilation ‘Tresor II: Berlin-Detroit: A Techno Alliance’, distributed in the US by Nova-Mute (a sub-division of Mute) was the catalyst for plans to open a sister venue in Detroit, which eventually died out.

The genre’s etymological origin and its sound distilled from factories, intellect and subtly expressed emotions naturally found a home in Germany. The country’s decades-long utilisation and innovation of technology and industry, its rich artistic history and, importantly, its predilection for looking to the future, made Berlin Detroit’s European counterpart. By the mid-1990s, the city was getting closer to strongly defining its own techno identity as the Detroit-Berlin sound bled into each other. The controversy, however, over techno’s heritage – whether it stemmed from tekno (its spelling with a k being a joke illustrating the hard, industrial style popular in the Netherlands and Belgium: ‘That record is tekno with four ks!’) or Detroit’s techno – occasionally kicked up though its Detroit origins won out eventually, with people accepting the ‘techno’ spelling and soft pronunciation.

Hugely important in the timeline of the genre is Hard Wax, a record shop at the core of Berlin’s techno scene. With a high regard for Detroit techno and its principles, Hard Wax is known for being central to one of the most important happenings, not just in Berlin but for the entire genre. Mark Ernestus, the shop’s owner, and Moritz von Oswald formed the seminal Basic Channel whose slim but revered catalogue subtracted all but techno’s most essential ingredients then reconstructed them to merge Jamaican dub, 4/4 bass drum pulses and dissonant synthesisers buried by rippling delays, even the releases’ distressed artwork mirrored the murky, tense tracks. Their pioneering work would go on to inform the work of Monolake and Hard Wax associate Pole, who, alongside Basic Channel, both form an important family from which minimal techno was born. In this article I explore these artists and minimal techno further.

In 1993 Wolfgang Viogt, his brother Reinhard, Jörg Burger and Jürgen Paape, who were later joined by Michael Mayer, opened Delirium, a techno record shop in Cologne. Combining the shop and distributor with a few existing labels and event organisers, Delirium became Kompakt 5 years later. Though their dominance took hold fully in the 2000s and will be discussed further in the last chapter of Three Decades of Techno the label’s importance for German techno in the 1990s needed to form part of the second chapter. In opposition to the typical cold precision of Berlin techno, Kompakt’s musical signature of blending texture and techno’s rhythmic intensity with rich ambience has been consistently heralded. Similar to Hard Wax, Kompakt provided a community by releasing and distributing German artists’ material into the 2000s aiding the genre’s  evolution and giving artists an identity on home soil.

Meanwhile in Detroit, DJs such as Richie Hawtin and Carl Craig (a student of Derrick May) were introducing the next wave of techno to fresh audiences. Mirroring the move from DJing to production made 10 years previously, Hawtin established the record label Plus 8 with John Acquaviva, after being unable to break into Derrick May’s Transmat label. Their third white label release was stamped with the phrase ‘The Future Sound of Detroit’, which projected the idea of Detroit having a regional sound character. This backfired however as established artists and the African-American community saw Plus 8, run by two Caucasian men, cashing in on a status others had built. The indignation and suspicions surrounding the now-renamed white label release ‘Technarchy’ ironically made it one the label’s best-selling, shifting around twenty thousand copies. By mid-’91, Plus 8 had matured considerably and released its first compilation ‘From Our Minds To Yours, Vol. 1’ and their ability to deal with the early faux pas and erudite business acumen would be integral for the label’s success.

American independents pursued Cybersonik (who produced Technarchy), a collaboration between Hawtin and his friend Daniel Bell, seeing them as a compliment to the noise and industrial acts on their rosters. Hawtin and Bell declined offers after realising their intense and drum-machine driven sound was unintentionally being perceived as aggressive. Stunned by the discovery, which was reinforced by news that their tracks were being played at a notorious anti-Semitic dance/football club in Rotterdam, the two the two dissolved the project and Hawtin explored his interests in the studio further, resulting in Plastikman, who ventured out with the four-album arc released on Plus 8 between 1993 and 1998, with a resurrection in 2003. He used the pseudonym to describe the pliable, bouncy noises emanating from his TB-303s and celebrated Kraftwerk’s influence with his use of the Germanic k in his song titles (‘Helikopter’, ‘Spastik’, ‘Kriket’ etc.). As a reaction against hardcore techno, Plastikman’s ‘sound’, which arguably ran parallel to Basic Channel’s, was more atmospheric and distinctly slower and deliberate yet thrillingly intense and emotive.

Through continuing the techno characteristics of employment and abuse of technology, stark aesthetics and unrestricted emotions etc., Hawtin, one of Plus 8’s most successful artists, has built a dedicated fan base with continent-spanning acclaim and his influence on techno in the 1990s and 2000s as Plastikman and the leader of loved/loathed M_nus label is incalculable.

Germany’s newly established sound/s and continuing confidence marked the start of techno’s decentralization. As pioneers existed in Detroit, figureheads like Hard Wax, Tresor and Kompakt and their associated DJs and acts emerged to push the genre forward and add their own interpretations and each sound. Predictions of where techno would go next as it spread from nation to nation, how the genre and the Detroit sound could evolve and where the next artists and labels would emerge from were impossible to make.

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