Tag Archive: Factory Floor


This post is the first of two that mark the end of Sonic Fiction for the foreseeable future and probably forever. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but I feel that as much as I’m still as passionate about all the music reviewed on the site I have to now focus purely on my own music career and improving those skills.

Last year this post was called “Top Ten Alternative Release of Year” but this year I decided to drop the word Alternative as I felt it was misleading, I haven’t come up with a decent replacement word so just left a genre name out. This last covers everything from funk to ambient via desert blues and there will be another list tomorrow for the Top Ten Hip-Hop Releases of the Year.

Thank to everyone whose read, commented on and retweeted/favourited/followed Sonic Fiction in its three years in existence. I will still keep the Sonic Fiction Twitter account alive as my own personal account so you can still find out about new music via that account.

1. Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” (Warp)

2. Boards of Canada – “Tomorrow’s Harvest” (Warp)

3. Janelle Monae – “The Electric Lady” (Wondaland)

4. Julia Holter – “Loud City” (Domino)

5. Factory Floor – “Factory Floor” (DFA)

6. Colleen – “The Weighing of the Heart” (Second Language)

7. Tamikrest – “Chatma” (Glitterbeat)

8. Mulatu Astatke – “Sketches of Ethiopia” (Harmonia Mundi/Jazz Village)

9. Moderat – “II” (Monkeytown)

10. Fuck Buttons – “Slow Focus” (ATP Recordings)

Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” (Warp)

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Jamie Lidell’s new self titled album may just be his best yet. It’s packed from start to finish with tracks that are suffered to gills with funk. This is however no ordinary funk, Lidell has never been one to do things the usual way, the high point of his career prior to this album was “Multiply” (2005) a collection that combined classic soul and funk chops with the forward thinking electronic glitches and edits of his label Warp. The first single from this album ‘What a Shame’ certainly promised a repeat of this direction, with its stretched grainy vocals and chopped up drums and though these and other similar sounds crop up throughout the album it’s definitely a funk album, just a freaky funk album! The album opens with the Gliding pitching synths and hard hitting drums and probing funk synth bass of ‘I’m Selfish’. It’s followed  by the huge pop of ‘Big Love’ its comes on like 80’s Prince with neon synths. ‘Do Yourself A Faver’ starts off with Thick synth bass and ghost delayed synth melody before evolving into a slice of classic George Clinton electro-funk! ‘why_ya_why’ updates New Orleans funk for the 21st century with stride piano is combined with crunching, head nodding beat and squelchy synths and some excellent horn blasts, the lines between organic and electronic are blurred. ‘So Cold’ and ‘Don’t You Love Me’ stand out from the rest of album with the former offering up Icy lead synth and pad open but contrast it with the huge rush of the chorus, the later is slower number with 80’s ballad stylings which picks up the pace and reintroduces the funk elements around halfway through. Its genuinely hard to fault Lidell on an album that superb from start to finish, a true funk masterclass.

Boards of Canada – “Tomorrow’s Harvest” (Warp)

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After all the mysterious codes, album playback’s in a desert and media hype we finally have the new album from Boards of Canada. “Tomorrow’s Harvest” doesn’t disappoint and stands up alongside the rest of Boards of Canada’s stellar back catalogue. There are two things that you notice after you first listen to the album 1) this isn’t a playful album filled with childlike nostalgia like “Music Has The Right To Children” (1998) 2) this is the most rhythmic Boards of Canada album to date from the drum beats the verge on hip-hop at times to the Vangelis style arpeggios and shifting synth textures.

The album opens with synthetic horn fanfare that purposefully recalls the introduction to an 80’s T.V. show, however this is a misleading and by second track and single ‘Reach for the Dead’ a few minutes later its clear this is going to a much darker proposition. The next track ‘White Cyclosa’ plunges us further into the darkness with its dread inducing synth drone, minimal echoing synth melody and unsettling shifting synth tones that rear their ugly head two minutes in. On ‘Jacquard Causeway’ a semi industrial beat competes with a curving synth melody and its counterpoint. As the song progresses more echoing synth melodies are added and the beat has acoustic layers added and feels looser as time goes on.

With its thin lightly modulated synth line and ethereal sounding vocal textures ‘Cold Earth’ is one of only tracks on the album that recalls earlier Boards of Canada releases albeit with a skittering beat and melody that jumps erratically around the beat and stereo field. ‘Sick Times’ also recalls earlier releases but with a darker, tenser atmosphere and thick, serrated electronic drums competing for the listener’s attention. ‘Collapse’ acts as the centrepiece to the albums palindrome structure it’s groaning reversed vocal effects set the disturbing tone and the Vangelis style arpeggio is another one of the albums key tropes. Next up is the album most playful track ‘Palace Posy’ with its bouncing synth bass and melody play off an almost head nodding hip-hop beat later a delayed synth stab and rhythmic synth melody kick and give the track yet more rhythmic variation, the closest thing to pop song that Boards of Canada have produced to date. ‘Split Your Infinities’ is another album highlight that opens with huge swath of synth drone and twinkling distant synth arpeggio, all this is underpinned by a crunchy beat and lo-fi vocal sample that come in, in the tracks second half. After the intensity of ‘Split Your Infinities’ and ‘Uritual’ the lighter and more pleasant ‘Nothing Is Real’ gives the listener a chance to relax, a pattern it repeated across the album’s structure.

The closer trio of tracks is one of the finest I’ve heard this year, starting with the digital degraded rhythmic synth riff and deep twanging bass guitar of ‘New Seeds’ which recalls Ennio Morricone’s finest soundtrack work but with a modern electronic twist. The track also has some great vocal textures and treated acoustic drums. ‘Come to Dust’ perfectly balances the darker and lighter elements of the album sound combining a deep  synth drone and distant vocal texture with a spacious beat and synth melody and topping it all off with a fast moving arpeggio. The album finishes with ‘Semena Mertvykh’ and the album deepest and darkest synth drone which is twinned with a synth melody so distant it sounds like its coming from down a deep pit, static and tape hiss add to the track’s creepy, dark atmosphere.

There was a eight year wait between Boards of Canada’s last album “The Campfire Headphase” and “Tomorrow’s Harvest” but the wait was worth it with Boards of Canada producing another exceptional album.

Janelle Monae – “The Electric Lady” (Bad Boy/Wondaland)

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“The Electric Lady” is Janelle Monae’s much anticipated follow-up to her delightfully insane and eclectic debut album “The Archandroid” (2010), which featured in my Top 20 Albums of the Year 2010 on this blog. The new doesn’t disappoint mixing up a whole range of musical genres across its nineteen tracks and continuing to explore Monae’s dystopian future where she plays the character of cyborg Cindi Merryweather. The main differences between the two albums is that on “The Electric Lady” there’s a romantic subplot and Monae has a few attempts at her own take on modern R&B a genre she’s expressed much frustration with in the past.

The album opens as “The Archandroid” did with a classical suite called ‘Suite IV Electric Overture’ which features twanging tremolo guitar, slow yet purposeful strings and a low slung head nodding, thin fuzz guitar and a heavenly choir. Around 1 minute 30 seconds in there a flourish of strings that leads into… ‘Give ‘Em What They Love’ featuring Prince. In fact, Prince is the most appropriate musical reference for this track with its slick funk rock guitar and thumping minimal beat. In the chorus a shuffling acoustic guitar enters adding to the slinky groove. In verse two Prince sing falsetto over his own perfectly poised guitar melody. There’s also a great guitar solo by Prince halfway through the song but Monae is the Purple One’s equal and is never in his shadow. Next up is the album’s first single ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ featuring Erykah Badu, the track kicks off with a funky guitar riff and subby bass drum and subtle tambourine groove. Then some P-Funk synth swiggles drop in before everything gets extra funky in the chorus. The track reminds of Thee Satisfaction albeit with major label production. Monae’s first attempt at a straight R&B is ‘Electric Lady’ featuring Solange. It opens with staccato vocals and fuzz guitar solo before the main head nodding funky beat and bass line drop and Monae and Solange’s vocals interweave creating harmonic heaven, later they create some fantastic melodies together too. The beat and bass line reminds me a lot of Solange’s tracks on her own ‘True’ EP and Monae has praised her as one of only artists pushing R&B forward. ‘Primetime’ featuring Miguel is another attempt at R&B this time Monae trys her hand at a ballad. In the intro Miguel adlibs over his own vocal distant vocal harmonies and a beat thumps and echoes out. Monae pushes the boat out vocally for the chorus before a cool fuzz guitar solo kicks. Things drop down again for Miguel’s first verse proper. Despite the cheesy lyrics, sounds and guitar solos, I really like this R&B and I don’t like R&B ballads.

‘Dance Apocalyptic’ is a fantastic pop song that combines acoustic rhythm guitar, upbeat drums and great claps. It strongly recalls ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast, which is no bad thing. ‘Look Into My Eyes’, ‘Victory’ and ‘Can’t Live Without Your Love’ show that Monae can deliver emotive vocals, something that she’s been accused of lacking in the past. Meanwhile, ‘It’s Code’ and ‘Ghetto Woman’ add to the album funk quota the former combing flanged wah-wah guitars and thick bass with subtle yet bouncy drums and some nice twinkling vibraphone melody. I love the synth swiggles in the chorus. The later continues with the synth swiggles and pumping synth bass, recalls Stevie Wonder in his 70s prime.

The only real misstep on the album (apart the interludes which add nothing to the album musically or thematically) is the closing track ‘What An Experience’ with its 80’s style synth stabs and hip-hop drums come across as cheesy where the aim was for something emotive. However, this a minor complaint on an exceptional album that equals Monae’s debut in terms of both ambition and great tunes. You need “The Electric Lady” in your life.

Julia Holter – “Loud City Song” (Domino)

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Julia Holter returns with “Loud City Song” her third album in three years and the first to record in a studio instead of her bedroom studio. It is immediately evident that this album is both similar and different to those that preceded it. The album is again themed but this time instead of an Ancient Greek theme were transported to 1940’s Paris and the film/novel ‘Gigi’ and Holter’s home of Los Angeles the inspiration for the album. Holter also continues to play with both avant garde and pop music though whereas her previous albums felt grounded and homemade “Loud City Song” brings in elements of jazz and soundtrack music that make for more upbeat and sweeping arrangements.

‘Maxim’s I’ is a great example of the leap that Holter’s made on this superb album. It begins with quiet hi-hats & cymbals play in the distance overlapping each other. The tension rises with strings and heavy piano and a synth pad enter for the beginning of the song proper. A full drum kit plays beneath all of this and Holter’s sparse lead vocal. Then there’s a breakdown to piano and violin around 2 minutes 30 seconds in before a new drum beat and Holter enter creating something that sounds like a more muted version of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Histoire De Melody Nelson”. The first section and beat returns around 4 minutes in and is later joined by what sounds like a new thicker pad sound. Next up is ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ the most effective use of field recordings in one of her songs to date. The field recording of “the brisk footfall of her fellow passersby evokes claustrophobia, danger and paranoia (is she being chased? Or is it all in her head?)”, it sets the tone for the nervous and menacing song that follows perfectly.

‘Maxim’s II’ opens sharply with Holter’s lone vocal and surges of strings. Horns join in honking before a vibraphone enters followed by pounding drums and bass guitar. Everything breaks down around two minutes in with Holter sing over just a field recording. Then huge honking horns and orchestral percussion crash in and push the joyous track along. Around 4 minutes and 30 seconds in the beat breaks down into something more strict and industrial, globs of metallic guitar, thick synth drone and squawking sax make the tracks chaotic climax. Album closer ‘City Appearing’ is an example of something else Holter manages to deliver across the whole of the album which is expert use of dynamics and texture. It begins with just Holter’s naked voice and stark piano chords. Around 1 minute 30 seconds in a wet, subtle synth pad enters glistening and slow moving. A drum beat coated in reverb enters around 2 minutes 40 seconds in. Then 3 minutes 24 seconds in a double bass line enters giving the track new purpose. Around 5 minutes in the synth pad rises to a level that causes the track to feel both tense and swirly which is emphasised by the acoustic drums that shift about below the surface.

With “Loud City Song” Holter may have delivered her best and most fascinating album to, she has managed to make a record that is hugely ambitious and hugely satisfying for the listener. Holter has truly mastered using space, dynamics, texture and improvisation alongside melody, harmony and composing. She is able to paint pictures and evoke emotion with both field recordings and musical elements and effortless blend or move between the two. It is difficult to define, is she an experimental artist or a pop artist or both? Whatever she is it’s a joy to listen to and experience.

Factory Floor – “Factory Floor” (DFA)

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I’ve been a fan of Factory Floor since discovering them back in 2009 when The Quietus began championing their cause. Since then the trio have collaborated with the likes of Simon Fisher Turner, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, released a series of astonishing 12” singles and remixes and stunned many a gig and festival audience. All this has lead to one of most highly anticipated albums of the year and it doesn’t disappoint.

The album opens with ‘Turn It Up’ which sets the scene for the rest of the album perfectly. It opens with electronic percussion that’s swiftly followed by a bass drum, processed male vocals and intense electronic cowbell. Nik Colk’s vocals join the male vocals and the track starts to feel like a minimal Arthur Russell production but more industrial in feel. Chattering techno hi-hats cut in upping the tension. The vocals get increasingly more processed and alien as the track progresses recalling those of Laurel Halo circa ‘Logic Hour’. Next up is ‘Here Again’ which begins with a synth arpeggio that fades in and out of view. Live drums kick playing in a breakbeat style and female vocals echo out. The track reminds me of Chris & Cosey who Factory Floor have collaborated with. There a great clap that comes in around two minutess in. Another arpeggio comes in to play counterpoint to the original in the third minute. the second half of the track is dominated by lots of descending delay effects, rolling toms and chattering hi-hats Colk’s vocals hovering just above.

The single ‘Fall Back’ combines a thumping acoustic bass drum, throbbing synth arpeggio and slap in the face electronic snare and toms during its intro. Colk’s vocals cut in coated in  thick effects (pitched shifted, with maybe some reverb). The chattering hi-hats kick in around 2 minutes in and give the track extra forward momentum and a faster feel. I love the way the intensity builds and when the acid bass that kicks in part through with its great spluttering, squelchy sound. ‘Two Different Ways’ is an great track that shows off the band ability to make you dance as it does their industrial intensity. It starts off with electronic bass drum and snare, backing huge synth arpeggio, toms roll in and out and hi-hats tease, the female vocal drops in coated in reverb. Wood blocks kick in with a funky rhythm around three minutes in. Wet, gloopy delay effects drip over the mix around the four minute mark, then the track finds yet more momentum with the synth bass arpeggio growing stronger and stronger as the track progresses.

The album finishes with the one-two punch of ‘Work Out’ and ‘Breathe In’. The former picks up where ‘Two Different Ways’ left off as electronic drums and percussion thump and patter while a stabby bass synth plays over the top. Tom-toms fall all over the place. Colk’s vocal echoes out creating a harmony. In second half there are more delay effects and an arpeggio that add variety and intensity, as does noise mixed in with the hi-hats and synths. A funky more resonate synth enters around 5 minutes adding extra movement and impetus to the track. The latter is the perfect end to the album and strongly recalls Cabaret Voltaire in their mid 80’s electro prime.  A thick bass synths starts things off before being swiftly joined by a tough acoustic four to the floor beat and intermit processed vocals. The vocals are used as samples rather than typical use of lead vocals.

All-in-all Factory Floor have created a great debut album that both lives up to the four years of hype that preceded it and is also surprisingly accessible compared to what I (and most critics) had expected. Go out and get yourself a copy of “Factory Floor” you won’t regret it.

Colleen – “The Weighing of the Heart” (Second Language)

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‘The Weighing of the Heart’ is Colleen’s first album since 2008, it’s also the first her first album to feature her own singing and extensive use of percussion instruments. In interviews Colleen has explained the album took so long to make as she’d fallen out of with music and took a break from both creating and listening to music.

After her enforced hiatus she has returned with an album full of beautiful music yet unorthodox music that is uniquely her own straddling the genre’s of folk, chamber pop and world music and never losing it natural feel. Opener ‘Push the Boat onto the Sand’ is a fine example of mixing of genres of unorthodox use of both her viola (its tuned like a guitar and plucked not bowed) and song structure (she uses simple repeating loops, then replaces that loop with another and then another) it also evokes a sense of Spain where she lives and records. ‘Ursa Major Find’ uses the same structure but has a more intimate and angelic feel perfectly complimented by a melody played on an antiquated sounding keyboard. ‘Humming Fields’ with its offbeat bass drum pattern and music box style melody sounds like a group of musicians playing in a room, in fact this a trick that Colleen pulls off across the second half of album and you forget this is the work of a lone person. ‘Going Forth By Day’ starts with just a lone plucked viola melody before it evolves into a more rhythmic pattern and is joined by a wavering oboe melody, a lovely track.

Colleen saves the best til last through with the final three track on the album proving to be the highlights of a great album. This trio begins with ‘Moonlit Sky’ which sees the return of the oboe again complimenting the viola perfectly before the unexpected arrival of an organ that gives the track a dynamic lift and some extra warmth. It’s followed by the scrambling viola melody and gorgeous vocal harmonies and African percussion of ‘Breaking Up the Earth’ before the title track rounds everything off with echoing viola and yearning violin melodies.

All-in-all Colleen has created an album full of beautiful and orthodox music, with enough depth to keep listeners discovering some new with each new play.

Tamikrest – “Chatma” (Glitterbeat)

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In 2011 “Toumastin” Tamikrest’s second album made number five in my Top Ten Albums of the Year and threw down the gauntlet to the kings of Tuarag (Sahara desert blues) kings Tinariwen. Now they return with a new album that pays title to the women, children and old people who are the victims of the war that’s been raging in their homeland. The band themselves had to escape to Algeria where they recorded “Chatma” (the title means ‘sisters’ in French). The album sees the band in fine form both solidifying what they’d achieved on the previous albums and adding to it with new elements (hand claps, synths), slower more reflective  tracks (something the band hadn’t done before), the addition of former Tinariwen singer Wonou Walet Sidati and a sharper, lusher production job.

The album opens with ‘Tisnant an Chatma’ and there synths are evident from intro before the lead guitar enters and Sidati talks in her native tongue. After about 30 seconds the assured drums and bass guitar and rhythm kick leading the way and picking up where the band left off on thier last album. An early highlight is ‘Itous’ which starts with a deep sparse bass line and hand percussion, swiftly followed by rhythm and lead guitars and interchanging lead vocals. Its more contemplative in tone than any Tamikrest track before it and puts down a marker for the rest of the album. More hand claps utilised around the 1 minute 20 second mark. I reaaly like the cutting, choppy rhythm guitar in the second half of the track. ‘Achaka Achail Aynian daghchilan’ continues the comtemplative tone with its combination of picked naturally reverberate acoustic guitar and quiet almost whispered male vocals and thick but not intrusive electric guitar chords.

Next up another change for Tamikrest in the faster tempo’d ‘Djanegh etoumast’ that opens with muted rhythm guitar riff before the lead guitar comes in a big chord is stuck and a faster rhythm of drums, percussion, bass and guitar kicks in. Shortly after the hand claps and vocal chants join in. There’s some great guitar solos in the instrumental sections. A drum break, bass solo and revered drum sounds introduced briefly after the three minute mark before the guitar drive back in to take the song to its climax. ‘Assikal’ sees the band exploiting the modern production techniques of reversing (a piano in this case). The guitar melodies float in before a male vocal sings quietl over, lots of overlapping reversed piano and then the loping percussion and lead guitar proper are slowly faded in. The track has a stately assured feel. Around two minutes the reversed piano and spoken word returns, the guitar echoes out infinetly. Three minutes fifty seconds in hand percussion and a wooden flute come in swiftly followed by the lead guitar, the one thing holding this whole complex track together.

A dirty analogue synth drone rises at the start of ‘Takma’ before hard drums bang and clatter, the lead guitar darts around the mix and chunks of fast and funky rhythm guitar and bass chugs below. It takes a moment to get used to this newly more uptempo Tamikrest but once I did the track and especially the synth and drums sounded great. The album closes with the brilliant ‘Timtar’, reversed guitars open the track giving way to the lead guitar and a deep bass drum, the melody is quite sparse compared to typical Tamikrest melodies. A wonderful gentle male vocal melody moves slow across the backing track. More drums enter around 2 minutes 30 seconds but they are subtle yet add just enough forward momentum to stop the track from stalling. The rhythm comes in towards to the end of the track to provide the same forward momentum.

All-in-all “Chatma” is the crowning achievement of Tamikrest’s career, the band managing to retain what made so great in the first and combine it with new elements and techniques to that enrich their Tuarag sound. Highly recommended for fans of Tuarag artists such as Tinariwen, Group Inerane and Group Doueh and those that like of sound of the descriptions in this review but have yet to explore this genre.

Mulatu Astatke – “Sketches of Ethiopia” (Harmonia Mundi/Jazz Village)

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I first came across Mulatu Astatke’s music after buying “Inspiration Information” (2009) a collborative album made with London’s funk/jazz/psychdelica band The Heliocentrics. The album hasn’t been off my mp3 player since and I’ve explored his impressive back catalogue of Ethio Jazz (the genre he pionneered in the late 60’s that combines tradtional Ethiopia modes and rhythms with those of Western jazz) albums. Four years later he returns with an album that gets closer to his aim of a perfect hybrid of Ethiopian music and jazz. The album features a number of tradtional that have been modified by Astatke so that they can play the 12 tone Western scales used in jazz.

The album opens with ‘Azmari’ the whole of Astake’s band in full swing, playing an Afro-funk/Latin jazz rhythm, brass stabs, upright bass underpins the patter of percussion and drums shift under everything. A krar (six-string lyre) flys in playing a counterpoint melody to the brass. There’s a great tense battle between the instruments around 2 minutes 40 seconds in, then the track breaksdown to upright bass twang, masinko (single-bowed lute) scraping and a vibraphone twinkling high above. The intros drums, percussion and melodies dive back in soon after. Next up is ‘Gamo’ a fast moving krar melody, upright bass line, clip-klopping percussion and African vocal chants open the track. Then the brass moves in and out with purpose. The track feels both Latin and African all at once (a trademark of Mulatu’s sound), it’s light yet not without substance. There’s a nice krar solo and low synth drones come in for the final minute or so, the interweaving male and female vocals are great too!!

‘Gambella’ starts with three sparse melodies playing out (vibes, piano & krar) over tumbling toms and waves of cymbals, this creates a forboding atmosphere but with shafts of light courtesy of the cymbals, vibes and high piano notes. The full beat, bass line and acoustic guitar melody kick in at 1 minute 30 seconds in before the horns strut in and blares out over the top. There’s great attitude in the male vocals, which are supported by the female backing vocals and they remind of how the vocals are used on Talking Heads “Remain In Light”. It’s followed by ‘Gumuz’ which begins with chanted male vocals and distant female vocal chants before phased guitar, double bass and a shuffling Latin rhythm slink in. An acoustic guitar plays a rhythm that gives the whole track forward momentum. There’s some nice electric piano chords that introduce themselves during a breakdown around 2 minutes 30 seconds and add warmth throughout the rest of the track. It’s the most modern of all the tracks I’ve hear from Astatke and he just about pulls it off, though some of the sounds are a little too smooth and polished and thus come off as a bit cheesy.

The album finishes with two great but contrasting tracks in ‘Motherland Abay’ and ‘Surma’. The former opens with sparse reverberate piano chords, swiftly followed a picked krar melody, chimes and the bowing of the masinko. Mulatu’s vibraphone twinkles in and out of the mix. This mix of instruments creates a desolate atmosphere. A washint (bamboo flute) enters and creates a haunting melody that swoops down on the listener. The masinko drives in low in the 4th minute before a light drum beat and stringed melody and trumpet take over the vibraphone playing sparsely above and around them. The latter combines a drum roll that brings in the horns, percussion and bass line. The track breaks down for the verse, that features a tightly coiled guitar riff (muted), an acoustic guitar melody, shuffling drums and the horns all backing guest Fatoumata Diawara lead vocals. The track feels a lot more like an Afrobeat or High Life track than the Ethio-Jazz of Mulatu’s usual tracks. It’s sound is sparser and more poppy than the rest of the album.

In “Sketches of Ethiopia” Astatke has created an album that comes close to matching both solo work from the late 60’s and early 70’s and the “Inspiration Information” album that are regarded as his best work. A little more time with the album will no doubt confirm if it equals these past achievements and reveal yet more detail of this meticulous yet effortless artist. Highly recommed to existing Astatke fans and fans of East African music.

Moderat – “II” (Monkeytown)

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Moderat released their first album four years ago it neatly combined the aggressive, dark techno, dancehall and hip-hop influenced side of electronica duo Modeselektor and the dreamy atmospherics and emotive vocals and guitars of electronica artist Apparat. Now the experienced trio are back with a new collaborative album “II”.

The album differs from their debut in that whereas the debut featured much more dramatic peaks and troughs across its running time, there was a handful of harder and danceable tracks were the beats were more prominent. This no problem as the trio are just as adept at slow burning and emotive tracks as they are club tracks.

Another difference is that the Moderat sound has been developed more organically, as the trio admitted in a recent interview with XLR8R that the previous album was “based on old ideas from all of us. We just had a folder and we put all of the ideas in there and we kind of recycled them”. The trio ended creating new ideas from scratch for “II” and this has led to a sound in which elements from the two different parts of the group are not fighting each other but complementing and contrasting with each other instead. All-in-all its a more well rounded and sonically consistent album.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/69467838″>Moderat “Bad Kingdom” | Monkeytown Rec.</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/pfadfinderei”>Pfadfinderei</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

After a brief intro track to the set the scene the album really gets going with ‘Bad Kingdom’ with its spiky synth bass, Apparat’s contrasting vocals (plain in the verse, dreamy and distant in the chorus) and brilliantly designed synth sound that bleep, squeal and honk. ‘Versions’ keeps the quality level and tempo high with airy fast moving pad and slinky percussion providing the energy behind rising and falling vocals and slow moving synth bass. ‘Milk’ provides the toughest and tensest track on the album with a slippery but hard techno synth bass and thin atmospherics setting the tone before another bass layer joins in thickening the sound and bringing with it reverse effects and the full drumbeat that features a very crisp and hard snare! An epic, emotive techno track should go down well in Berlin’s clubs. ‘Gita’ highlights Moderat’s ability to create incredibly detailed and texture tracks from seemingly just a few musical elements. It combines fuzzy digital bass synth, clicking, clacking electronic drums that back Apparat’s naked, and multi layered vocals. As the track progresses a synth pad and two melodies sneak underneath the vocals. After several listens I suddenly realised one of the melodies sounded like marbles falling from your hands and bouncing up into the air.

Overall it’s hard to find fault with “II”, my only real criticism is that I’d have liked some MC driven tracks like “BeatsWaySick” from the debut album but it’s a minor criticism. Moderat have created an album that could grow to be as great if not better than its predecessor was.

Fuck Buttons – “Slow Focus” (ATP Recordings)

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It has been four years since Fuck Buttons up their game on their second album “Tarot Sport” which made Sonic Fiction’s Top Ten Albums of the Year 2009. Both members have worked on other projects the most high profile of which was Benjamin John Power’s dark ambient side project Blanck Mass. Now they return with new album “Slow Focus” and the promise of a sound underpinned by hip-hop beats.

The album opens with ‘Brainfreeze’, which opens with the duo’s previous trademark tribal drums and thick snaking synth covered in grimy distortion that slink all over the drums. As the track progress more and more layers of synth are add until a new pad sound changes the song’s feel from claustrophobic to triumphant. Next up is ‘Year of the Dog’ and begins with synths bubbling up through a soup of reverb/delay before an aggressive arpeggio fly into view. Later in the track a disturbing cacophony of violins enters before the arpeggio reasserts itself and angelic sounding pad joins the melee.

Album centrepiece ‘The Red Wing’ kicks off with a hip-hop beat and chirping synth start this track before a corroding synth bass line enters. A synth riff enters and echoes out in the distance, the riff comes front and centre as the track evolves and the synth bass and synth drones gets stronger. ‘The Red Wing’ could easily be an epic track by either Boards Of Canada or El-P and that is no bad thing! ‘Sentients’ starts with resonate electronic percussion which suggests a Congotronics influence and spluttering synth blasts before a central hip-hop influenced beat kicks in. Another synth enters whistling like R2D2. A new counter point melody enters played by a resonate 8-bit vocal synth melody and is quickly following by a wave of corroded synth. Finally another pad enters giving the track a horror film/John Carpenter vibe.

‘Prince’s Prize’ and ‘Stalker’ both feature glassy FM synth melodies with the former utilising a double time hip-hop beat and reminding me of Gang Gang Dance and Mouse on Mars. While the latter adds glistening synth later after glistening synth layer until its epic climax.

The album ends with the tumbling brittle synth melody, thumping bass drum and huge ascending synth chord progression of ‘Hidden XS’ a transcendent finale to breathtaking album.

I was excited about ‘Slow Focus’ before hearing it but never thought that Fuck Buttons would find another level to take their synth noise sound to, however they have set the bar extra high with this brilliant album.

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I’ve been a fan of Factory Floor since discovering them back in 2009 when The Quietus began championing their cause. Since then the trio have collaborated with the likes of Simon Fisher Turner, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, released a series of astonishing 12” singles and remixes and stunned many a gig and festival audience. All this has lead to one of most highly anticipated albums of the year and it doesn’t disappoint.

The album opens with ‘Turn It Up’ which sets the scene for the rest of the album perfectly. It opens with electronic percussion that’s swiftly followed by a bass drum, processed male vocals and intense electronic cowbell. Nik Colk’s vocals join the male vocals and the track starts to feel like a minimal Arthur Russell production but more industrial in feel. Chattering techno hi-hats cut in upping the tension. The vocals get increasingly more processed and alien as the track progresses recalling those of Laurel Halo circa ‘Logic Hour’. Next up is ‘Here Again’ which begins with a synth arpeggio that fades in and out of view. Live drums kick playing in a breakbeat style and female vocals echo out. The track reminds me of Chris & Cosey who Factory Floor have collaborated with. There a great clap that comes in around two minutess in. Another arpeggio comes in to play counterpoint to the original in the third minute. the second half of the track is dominated by lots of descending delay effects, rolling toms and chattering hi-hats Colk’s vocals hovering just above.

The single ‘Fall Back’ combines a thumping acoustic bass drum, throbbing synth arpeggio and slap in the face electronic snare and toms during its intro. Colk’s vocals cut in coated in  thick effects (pitched shifted, with maybe some reverb). The chattering hi-hats kick in around 2 minutes in and give the track extra forward momentum and a faster feel. I love the way the intensity builds and when the acid bass that kicks in part through with its great spluttering, squelchy sound. ‘Two Different Ways’ is an great track that shows off the band ability to make you dance as it does their industrial intensity. It starts off with electronic bass drum and snare, backing huge synth arpeggio, toms roll in and out and hi-hats tease, the female vocal drops in coated in reverb. Wood blocks kick in with a funky rhythm around three minutes in. Wet, gloopy delay effects drip over the mix around the four minute mark, then the track finds yet more momentum with the synth bass arpeggio growing stronger and stronger as the track progresses.

The album finishes with the one-two punch of ‘Work Out’ and ‘Breathe In’. The former picks up where ‘Two Different Ways’ left off as electronic drums and percussion thump and patter while a stabby bass synth plays over the top. Tom-toms fall all over the place. Colk’s vocal echoes out creating a harmony. In second half there are more delay effects and an arpeggio that add variety and intensity, as does noise mixed in with the hi-hats and synths. A funky more resonate synth enters around 5 minutes adding extra movement and impetus to the track. The latter is the perfect end to the album and strongly recalls Cabaret Voltaire in their mid 80’s electro prime.  A thick bass synths starts things off before being swiftly joined by a tough acoustic four to the floor beat and intermit processed vocals. The vocals are used as samples rather than typical use of lead vocals.

All-in-all Factory Floor have created a great debut album that both lives up to the four years of hype that preceded it and is also surprisingly accessible compared to what I (and most critics) had expected. Go out and get yourself a copy of “Factory Floor” you won’t regret it.

2nd September

Doctor Zygote – “Grupo Zygote” (Black Acre)

Doctor Zygote is a hip hop and instrumental beats based producer of music. Alongside DJ Jazz T he runs Boot Records, and also Zoot Records- a new sister label geared towards instrumental music. Alongside an unnamed rapper he is a member of STRANGE U.

9th September

Factory Floor – “Factory Floor” (DFA)

After two years of singles and build up it seems that the band will finally release their much anticipated début album in May 2013 on DFA records. The album will be preceded by the single ‘Fall Back’ eight and a half minutes of slow burning dance floor intensity.

Janelle Monae – “The Electric Lady” (Atlantic)

The follow-up to Monae’s debut album “The Archandroid” (2010) has been announced and is preceded by the single “Q.U.E.E.N.” featuring Erykah Badu.

Mum – “Smilewound” (Morr Music)

Morr Music press release:

You don’t need to be Freud to regard teeth as a delicate issue. They can make joy look joyous and pain look painful, and on the cover of the new múm album they do both at the same time. As “Yesterday Was Dramatic – Today Is Okay” (2001), “Finally We Are No One” (2002) and “Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know” (2009) “Smilewound” is another example of the band’s art of juxtaposing two conflicting meanings and taking advantage of the energy created through the tension between both.

Sparser in sound than many of its predecessors, “Smilewound” is an airy, relaxed record. The múm-core-duo of Örvar and Gunni doesn’t make you laugh out loud (except maybe for the quirky vintage Arcade-sound-start of “When Girls Collide”), but it will make you smile often – despite the heavenly voices singing about violence in one form or another in most songs. Musically, múm’s capability to build playful electronic sound-ornaments around simple melodies is in full bloom. And these days they know that trimming the ornamentation can strengthen the melody. Take “The Colorful Stabwound”: an aguish drum’n’bass piece and”Smilewound” gets close to a straight pop-song. Even that isn’t very close, but it combines its rhythmic strength with a simple yet effective piano-line and the soothing lushness of a female voice to something compelling that follows you like the smell of a delicate eau de toilette. Or “Candlestick” which started out as a little ditty strummed on an acoustic guitar many years ago and has grown into this bouncy piece of synth-pop that changes its musical colours every couple of beats until you feel comfortably dizzy. Perfect pop in very fancy clothes. No wonder that antipodean pop-princess Kylie Minogue wanted to collaborate with múm on the “Whistle”, the main song in 2012-movie “Jack & Diane”.

Recorded in, among other places, the band’s practice-space, an old baltic farmhouse and on the kitchen-table after dinner, the album was produced by múm themselves. And being the revolving collective they are, it comes as no surprise that we see the return of former member Gyda. Defining satellites as part of the core fits nicely with the band’s penchant for ambivalence – in fact that’s part of the album’s charm.

Youngblood Brass Band – “Pax Volumi” (Tru Thoughts)

The latest is the band hope to complete the new album in autumn 2012 with a release planned for the the new year accompanied by an extensive world tour by this excellent live act!!!

 

What Kirsty’s Looking Forward to

Albums

Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – “Elements of Light” (Rough Trade) 11th January

Sonic Fiction favourite Pantha Du Prince (Hendrik Weber) has teamed up with Norwegian musicians The Bell Laboratory for a collaborative album, “Elements of Light”. The video previews below display the German techno producer and The Bell Laboratory creating an ambitious symphony of electronics, percussion and a special bell carillon, a three-tonne instrument consisting of fifty bronze bells.

Pantha du Prince & the Bell Laboratory – Trailer 1 from Sandra Trostel on Vimeo.

Pantha du Prince & the Bell Laboratory – Trailer 2 from Sandra Trostel on Vimeo.

Apparat – “Krieg und Frieden” (Mute) 15th February

The electronic music producer returns with an album based on a German theatre production of Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace, directed by Sebastian Hartmann. Once Hartmann asked Apparat, born Sascha Ring, to contribute music to the project, the producer then spent four weeks working with a 30-piece ensemble in an empty factory alongside Apparat’s live band members Philipp Timm and Christoph Hartmann. After the piece’s final performance Ring, C. Hartmann and Timm transformed the soundtrack into a work for album release. Ring says of “Krieg und Frieden”, “It’s the first record ever that didn’t hurt at some point. It’s full of imperfection because it was made by humans.” He goes on to describe the album as “a bit of a weird record with not many beats and lots of drones.”

Grab the free ‘A Violent Sky’ now:

Function – “Incubation” (Ostgut Ton) 4th March

Nearly 20 years into Function’s career comes his solo debut album “Incubation” on the luminary Ostgut label.  As a member of Sandwell District and as a solo artist he is known for producing sleek, atmospheric techno, which he will explore further on his album, which was mastered by the respected engineer Tobias Freund. His goal,  “was to create something cinematic and heavy on imagery and emotion.” and  a “soundtrack.” The release was conceived as “one endless piece to be listened to straight through. So everything is connected and there are reoccurring themes throughout the album.” Listen to his beautiful ‘Inter’ below:

Ellen Allien – “LISm” (BPitch Control) March

Berlin icon Ellen Allien is due to release her seventh album “LISm” in March. The album is closely based on a soundtrack Allien wrote for the Drama per Musica dance recital performed in 2011 at Paris’ Spectacles Vivants Festival. She called on Bruno Pronsato to aid her with expanding the pieces and to co-produce “LISm”. As usual the album will be released through BPitch Control, the label she’s managed for over a decade.

Stream a medley of “LISm” below:

The Knife – “Shaking The Habitual” (Mute) 8th April

After seven years we will finally see the release of the Swedish brother-sister duo’s third studio album “Shaking The Habitual”. Their last was the flawless “Silent Shout” from 2006. In 2010 they released, “Tomorrow In A Year”, the collaborative album with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock that was written for an opera/performance piece based on the life and work of Charles Darwin. Both members have also released solo records under pseudonyms – Karin as the acclaimed Fever Ray and Olaf as Oni Ahyun. Light Asylum member Shannon Funchess has contributed to vocals to the album which will be released via Mute/Brille.

This video, which may or not be The Knife, leaked online could provide clues on what we can expect.

Listen to the title track from “Silent Shout” below:

Artists

Audion – Matthew Dear has hinted via Twitter that new material from his techno side project Audion could on the horizon this year. Listen to the classic ‘Mouth to Mouth’ below:

Answer Code Request – Patrick Gräser has this far released a handful of refreshingly varied, rolling techno 12″s on labels as Ostgut Ton, Marcel Dettmann’s MDR Records and Music Man. His “Main Mode” 12″ is an essential listen with other tracks of his included on Norman Nodge’s excellent “Berghain06” and Dettmann’s “Conducted” mix. Maybe in 2013 Answer Code Request will take the leap to producing a full length release.

Kompakt celebrates 20 Years

The esteemed German label will celebrate its 20th birthday in 2013 with a host of special events, including an extensive European tour, a documentary chronicling the rise of the label, a “fanzine” and re-issues. The best news yet is they of course will release new music throughout 2013. While there are no exact release dates, we can expect new albums from Justus Köhncke, Coma, The Field and Gui Boratto.

What Liam’s Looking Forward to

Albums

A$AP Rocky – “Long.Live.A$AP” 14th January

Having discovered A$AP Rocky through his “LiveLoveA$AP” (2010) I was looking to hearing his debut album and its finally coming out in just a weeks time after many delays. The album features top underground hip-hop producers such as Clams Casino, Hit Boy, A$AP Ty Beats, Soufein3000, Joey Fat Beats and Rocky himself and has already gained a Best New Music award from Pitchfork. “Long.Live.A$AP” promises to be one of the Albums of the Year 2013.

Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” 18th February

Jamie Lidell returns with his self titled fifth album in February 2013, pre release track “What A Shame” finds him returning to the electronic sound of his first two solo albums “Muddling Gear” (2000) and the brilliant “Multiply” (2005).

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Push the Sky Away” 18th February

The long awaited follow up to “Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!” (2008) has got me excited due to its trailer and the Gaspar Noe directed video for first single ‘We Know Who U R’, a simple but highly effective song with a video to match. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album!!!

Low – “The Invisible Way” 18th March

In 2013 Low celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band, they will also release their 13th studio album. Produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy at Wilco’s Chicago studio, The Loft, the band visited the studio while on tour and decided to record with Tweedy after hearing his work on Mavis Staples “You Are Not Alone” (2010).

David Bowie – “The Next Day” March 2013

On Tuesday (8th January)  David Bowie announced his return with his 30th studio album and his first since 2003’s “Reality”. The first single from “The Next Day” is ‘Where Are We Now’ which harks back to the “Heroes” (1977) a Bowie classic. This has surprised many critics and fans alike as Bowie is generally perceived as a forward thinking artist. However, this overlooks much of Bowie’s output in the 90’s and 00’s which referenced his own back catalogue on numerous occasions. Producer Tony Visconti quickly aligned any fears of Bowie deserting his innovative roots describing the album as both “innovative” and “quite a rock album” continuing if people are looking for classic Bowie, they’ll find it on this album”.

Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah – “Twelve Reasons to Die” early 2013

“Twelve Reasons to Die” is the result of an unlikely collaboration between producer and film score composer Adrian Younge (most famous for his work on the brilliant blaxploitation homage “Black Dynamite) and Wu Tang Clan MC Ghostface Killah. The album is executive produced by RZA (Wu Tang Clan) and comes with a comic book written by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon of Ashcan Press.

Factory Floor – “Title TBA” 13th May

After a good two years of singles and build up it seems that the band will finally release their much anticipated début album in May 2013 on DFA records. The album will be preceded by the single ‘Fall Back’ eight and a half minutes of slow burning dance floor intensity.

YoungBlood Brass Band – “Pax Volumi” early 2013

The latest from the band is that they have completed their new album with a release planned for early in 2013, accompanied by an extensive world tour. I look forward to hearing this explosive bands combination of raw live jazz and hip-hop elements, been much missed since the brilliant “Is That A Riot?” (2006).

Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – “Title TBA” Spring 2013

The band recently announced their new album would be out in the new year, more information as we get it.

Madvillain – “Title TBA” 2013

In a recent interview with Benji B on BBC Radio 1 Doom of Madvillain announced that the second album is almost done and he just has to finish off two songs and that if they’re finished on time the album could be out before the end of 2012. 2012 is now been and gone but the album is close to completion so hopefully it will be released before the year is out.

Artists

AlunaGeorge

AlunaGeorge’s music has been bouncing around the internet for around a year now and now the male-female duo are hotly tipped for success and finishing second in the BBC’s Sound of 2013 didn’t hurt their chances of going supernova this year. However, its their music and not polls that has me excited an combination on Timbaland and The Neptunes style beats, off kilter synths and R&B vocals instantly mark them out from the pack, while never forgetting about a hummable tune and killer hook. Their debut album “Body Music” comes out in June and I can’t wait for it. To read an interview with band on The Guardian’s website click here.

Ryan Hemsworth

Ryan Hemsworth started out providing beats for cloud rap acts such as Attrakionz and Deniro Farrar until the release of his instrumental E.P. “Last Words” late in 2012 in which he expanded out into a skewed hip-hop, ambient and dance music hybrid. His main influences are Three 6 Mafia, Mannie Fresh, Hudson Mohawke, Aphex Twin and Ryuichi Sakamoto. I look forward to hearing more material from this promising young producer.

Joey Bada$$

18 year old Joey Bada$$ released his excellent debut mixtape “1999” which perfectly recreated late 90’s New York and catapulted Bada$$ and his PRO ERA crew into the spotlight. It also drew the attention of legendary hip-hop producer DJ Premier and the two will release a free on Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sound next week.

Night Engine

Although originality isn’t their strong suit musically Night Engine do create exciting music and show the potential to develop into a great guitar pop band. They recall both Franz Ferdinand and Berlin era and early 80’s David Bowie and neither of those are bad artists to be a reminder of. Check out their debut single ‘Seventeen/Treat Me Like a Baby’ below and read more about the band here.

This is a new quarterly column that will reassess the reputations of artists and address whether they are underrated or overrated. First under the microscope is Sheffield post-punk group Cabaret Voltaire.

The group were one of the original industrial bands that formed in the mid ‘70s and were a seminal post-punk band during the movement’s conception. However, when they attempted like many of their contemporaries to infiltrate the mainstream they struggled to gain a foot hold. In this article I will look at possible reasons why this happened, compare the band to their contemporaries and reassess their position in the late ‘70s and ‘80s musical landscape.

Taking their name from a Zurich nightclub that was central to the 1910s Dada art movement, Cabaret Voltaire had been an ever changing group of friends from 1973 who settled on a permanent line-up and become a serious operation in 1975. At this point the line-up featured Richard H. Kirk (clarinet and, later, guitar), Chris Watson (organ, homemade oscillator) and Stephen Mallinder (bass, vocals). The Dada movement was a big influence on the early material and attitude of Cabaret Voltaire (known affectionately as the Cabs). Their motto was ‘no sound shall go untreated’; everything was fed through a combination of oscillator, ring modulators, distortion, delays and anything else that could be acquired cheaply and this created a sound that was closer to the musique concrete experiments of Morton Subotnik than any of the rock and pop music being played by other bands at the time. Further to this the band adopted the mantra of ‘We are not musicians’, an idea that Watson and Kirk had heard in the records and lectures of their hero Brian Eno. A third important formative influence was that of William Burroughs and Bryan Gysin’s cut-up techniques which informed the group’s love of re-editing speeches by anyone from politicians to pornographers and the ever constant concepts of control (see song titles “Your Agent Man” and “Kneel to the Boss”) and paranoia that pervade their lyrics and sound.

In 1977 the band’s sound and confidence had developed enough for them to send a demo to Richard Boon at New Hormones. As he could not afford to release their material he gave them a support slot for the Buzzcocks at The Lyceum in London. By this point they also moved into a rehearsal and recording space called Western Works where the band installed a multi track tape machine and mixing desk which allowed Cabaret Voltaire to make and release high-quality music for the first time. The early Western Works recordings got them signed to Rough Trade and the band quickly released early singles ‘Nag Nag Nag’ and “Silent Command’ and established their combination of fuzz ridden itchy punk-funk guitar, organ stabs, sticky synth lines and tumbling electronic drums all fighting for attention with Mallinder’s processed vocals, which was described as: “like molten glass being blown into distended shapes.” They followed the success of the singles with debut album “The Mix-Up” which while not as vital as the band’s subsequent releases showed that they could last the distance on an album and demonstrated huge potential for the band to develop.

After their first trip to the US the trio returned to Western Works “fascinated by America but aware of its darker side”, as they sensed the tension just before Reagan’s  election and became entranced by televangelist Eugene Scott who the band sampled for the “Sluggin’ For Jesus” single. Their second album “The Voice of America” (1979) may have focused strongly on the US in its lyrics and sample choices but its sound combined Cabaret Voltaire’s trademark scathing sound with an explicit dub influence that had only previously been implied by the infrequent use of a dub delay. The dub music influence was now central to their drum machine rhythms and Mallinder’s impressive bass playing and deep tone. “The Voice of America” was the high point of this period of the Cabs, finding a balance between their diverse influences without compromise.

Their next album releases ‘Three Mantras’ (1980) and ‘Red Mecca’ (1981) looked at the parallels between fundamentalist Islam and born-again Christianity in America. The albums took very different approaches to these subjects. “Three Mantras” featured two side long tracks. The first song, “Western Mantra”, blends Neu!’s motorik rhythms, Mallinder’s subtle bass variations with Kirk’s Arabic sounding guitar squalls and piercing keyboards from Watson to mesmerizing, propulsive effect. “Eastern Mantra”, the second side, loops a vocal sample over a drone and Arabic and Israeli pop music flashes in and out of the mix, later Kirk joins in with some crisp rhythm guitar. Arabic wind instruments and found sound from a Jerusalem market complete the package and make for an incredibly evocative release that utilises its sources well without falling foul of cultural tourist clichés. “Red Mecca”, though a very good album feels like a step back to  the sound of “The Voice of America” yet it doesn’t quite have the same punch. It comes as no surprise that Cabaret Voltaire felt they had done all they could with their current sound by this point.

Another crucial element that the band used, was slide and cine projectors that were utilised to create sensory overload for the audience. Like their peers Throbbing Gristle the Cabs saw themselves as reporters operating in ‘the information war’. “The film projections were part of this counter-propaganda, working as a kind of anti-TV. Hence their non-judgemental stance, appropriate to the neutrality of the good reporter.” This stemmed from both the influence of Burroughs and his theories about control and “[t]he hard, unblinking, amoral stare of J.G. Ballard’s fiction as it surveyed the contemporary mediascape” was another huge influence. The band were keen observers of what was happening around them: urban riots in the UK in 1981, the situation in the Middle East and tension present in pre-Reagan America and were able to subtlety articulate this in the mood, tone, lyrics and samples present in their music and visuals.

Cabaret Voltaire’s next release “2 X 45” comprised of two 12” records which feature guest drummer Alan Fish of Sheffield experimentalists Hula and the last three songs recorded with Chris Watson who departed the band in October ‘81 for a career in television sound recording. The second record includes their first recordings as a two piece with guests Nort (drums) and Eric Random (percussion/guitar). Though it is correct to view “2 X 45” as an transitional release it seems there is a transition within the record itself. Watson’s input and influence is definitely reduced and keeps reducing across the three tracks as if he is moving towards the exit as they record. The second half of the record sees the band really start to push towards the dance music direction they would incorporate for the remainder of the ‘80s; the 12” format is also a clue to this new direction. “War of Nerves (T.E.S.)” would be a typical Cabs track but instead it is the rhythm that dominates, “Wait and Shuffle” is as close to upbeat reggae as they ever reached and “Get out of My Face” is driven by Kirk’s relentless yet fun rhythm guitar.

In 1981 Stephen Mallinder and Richard H. Kirk were invited to watch Soft Cell’s performance of “Tainted Love” on Top of the Pops by Stevo the head of Some Bizzare management/record company. Stevo was making a name for himself as an electronic and avant-garde music DJ and someone who could sell new acts to major labels and re-launch the careers of established acts like the Cabs who had reached an impasse. At the meeting Stevo discussed his idea of “conform-to-deform” which struck a chord with the group. He gave them £5000 to buy a video duplication machine for their video company Doublevision, allowing the band to be autonomous and able to produce small runs of video via mail order. Stevo also paid for the recording of the next album “The Crackdown” (1981) and in return the band stripped down their sound to make it more accessible and pushed Mallinder’s vocal central in the mix. This created a shift for his and Kirk’s roles as Mallinder was now becoming the front man and occasional bassist with Kirk taking on other musical roles.

The result of this was a sound that attempted to blend their post-punk paranoia with the electro sound that was emerging from New York simultaneously. As with their friends and peers New Order, who recorded part of their debut album “Movement” at Western Works, Cabaret Voltaire were trying to combine white angst and black groove, though New Order’s was an emotional angst and theirs was political. One of the fateful events that lead to the Cabs’ adoption of electro was Kirk who was blown away by Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Planet Rock’ which he heard at The Hacienda (the Cabs had also played at the Manchester institution’s opening night) He later remarked, “it was like Kraftwerk only funkier”. This epiphany and (co-composer of “Planet Rock”) John Robie’s electro remix of ‘Yasher’ from “2 X 45” convinced the band on their change of direction and how to create a dance floor suited version of their sound. Cabaret Voltaire undertook this direction change with help from co-producer Flood, Soft Cell keyboardist Dave Ball and all the latest dance music technology of synthesisers, a sequencer, a Roland 808 drum machine, harmonisers and the electro staple, the Claptrap.

With Malinder now the front man the duo relied less on voice recordings from television programmes but were still intent on spreading a complex, ambiguous political message while attempting mass communication. This is a reason why the band are commercially disappointing when compared to New Order. The Cabs attempted to communicate both present and recent political past, their music rich with data and meaning, gleaming with the same number-crunching technology of the bankers and investors who inhabited Thatcher’s Britain. New Order conversely dealt in the universal emotions of yearning, love and death therefore their music was instantly relatable and thus climbed the charts. Cabaret Voltaire’s material was akin to “a night spent channel-hopping on TV, tuning through the shortwave radio dial or watching a sequence of advertising hoardings from the window of a speeding car could ever be”. There was no one subject. “It was more about creating atmosphere.” Kirk commented on the duo’s “cut-up method of setting voices snatched from the mediascape against Mallinder’s vocals”.

“The Crackdown” also signalled another important development. Cabaret Voltaire signed a record deal with Virgin on the proviso that they be allowed to put out 12” versions of album tracks. The duo left behind the scratchy, lo-fi sound of the 7” associated with punk and Rough Trade for the high end “seduction of the club sound system” and the lifestyle of excess that accompanied it. The 12” is synonymous with the 1980s and the circle that the Cabs moved in from the decade’s early electro scene through to the beginnings of rave music appeared in their sound. The album has a new “rhythmic certainty” and a feeling of “space, order and purpose” where previously there was chaos and claustrophobic. Dissonance, however, still remained but this could be blended seamlessly into the streamlined sequencer music.

They continued to pursue success and the harmonisation of man with cutting edge machinery with 1984’s “Micro-Phonies”. For this release Cabaret Voltaire employed an E-mu Emulator – a sampler keyboard that allowed Kirk to place samples where needed. The keyboard elevated the level of complexity that the Cabs were able to achieve, which was exemplified by the 12” mix ‘Sensoria’ from the album. The 12” “presented Redneck America’s party line on clean living, lifted from a television documentary on the Ku Klux Klan. Set against it, to deepen the conceptual irony further still were the chants of Zulu singers.”

Conversely their visual feature managed to directly mass communicate free of limiting censorship, certification and copyright law. Until the moral panic caused by video nasties which lead to the introduction of the UK’s Video Recordings Act 1984 Cabaret Voltaire were able to assemble cut-ups of hardcore porn, anatomical surgery and CCTV into their videos and could sell these to fans via mail order with no interference from Virgin. They were also able to experiment with all the possibilities of the format with typical video promos, their own Wipeout T.V. magazine show and Johnny Yesno, their film and soundtrack from 1983. In this respect the duo were forerunners to great Audio/Visual innovators like Coldcut and VJs (Visual Jockeys) who were inspired by rave era music are indebted to the Cabs’ pioneering music and visuals.

By the release of “The Covenant, The Sword and The Arm of the Lord” (1985) Kirk had bought a sampler (the E-mu Emulator had been hired due to its prohibitive price) and explored the techniques associated with it. Some of the sampler techniques on display in this release are the same that are used in hip-hop and their beloved electro. The band went a step further than on previous albums that had virtually avoided the traditional emotional palette of pop music. This typical subject matter is subverted on “I Want You” with “…words that once formed the basic unit meaning for just about every pop song in existence…skilfully exposed as the utterance of a TV preacher calling his faithful viewers to prayer.” The Cabs’ explicit, as opposed to earlier, implicit, subversion ended hopes of commercial success.

Another important factor in Cabaret Voltaire’s failure to achieve the commercial and dancefloor triumph akin to their contemporaries New Order, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode and Heaven 17 et al is that club music changed direction and attitude in the mid 1980s. In the early ‘80s post-punk innovators had lead the way and found an audience willing to follow their most daring experiments yet only five years later the times had changed. Conservatism took hold in music with most audiences disliking challenges and debates. Despite the similarity of the Cabs’ music and subject matter to the acts on the On-U Sound label (Tackhead, Mark Stewart, Gary Clail), they now overtook Cabaret Voltaire’s level of attention and popularity in clubs, though they too rarely entered the charts. House and techno DJs and producers grew increasingly popular and people did not want the Cabs’ technological chatter. Though they became unfashionable Cabaret Voltaire exerted a large influence on the development of techno and electronica. Derrick May has stated “Everybody from Frankie Knuckles to Ron Hardy, young black DJs in Detroit, and Richie Hawtin, loved Cabaret Voltaire.” The duo were also educated enough in dance music technology to meet with house and techno producers and share ideas. They also influenced the artists involved in Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series and important early ‘90s labels R&S and Plus 8 owe Cabaret Voltaire a great debt.

More recently their authority can be heard in new bands like White Car (the title of a Cabs track from “C.O.D.E.”), Factory Floor, Breton, Suuns and the reactivated Blancmange. It is odd that a band with this level of reach and whose fans regularly bemoan their underrated music are so consistently overlooked. Some of their Virgin albums are nearly impossible to purchase which should be addressed as it was with earlier albums. They should work with Richard H. Kirk to re-master, remix and re-release the later releases. If contemporaries like Nizter Ebb, Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey can experience a resurgence of interest then why not Cabaret Voltaire? They are a band that consistently created fresh, different and worthy albums from 1978 to 1987 yet they have not received the same reappraisal as others, which needs to be rectified.

Spotify playlist:

Cabaret Voltaire

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