Sandwell District begins “phase 3″ – with 2×12″ from improv legend and political activist Bob Ostertag
A hell of a lot of techno fans were left crying into their turntables last year after Sandwell District’s limited edition, vinyl-only Feed-Forward album sold out in a matter of days.
Copies of the album – pressed on clear vinyl, with bonus 7″ and art fanzine - now command up to £100 on the second-hand market. Sandwell, the international collective comprising producers Regis, Function, Silent Servant and Female, are remaining steadfast in their refusal to re-press the LP or make it available in other formats. However, this week sees the release of an self-titled (or perhaps untitled) CD collecting edits and live versions of tracks from the album.
Talking exclusively to FACT, Regis confirmed: “It’s not the CD version of the LP. None of the tracks from the LP appear on the CD in their original form.”
Regis – real name Karl O’Connor – went on to tell us what’s next for the label. It’s fair to say we’re pretty excited.
“[The CD] is also the end of phase 2 of the Sandwell project. Phase 3 starts with a Rrrose x Bob Ostertag 2×12″ – out in June, with a 12″ before – that sees the label open up to a wider group of artists. It’s all in production.”
Save for a couple of remixes, the Sandwell District label has been a closed circle ever since its inception its 2002 , appearing to release only material by its four core members (a notable exception being SD01, which was co-produced by Regis and his old Birmingham comrade Ian J. Richardson). That the label is now formally opening up to accommodate other artists is significant in itself, but it’s all the more fascinating when you consider who those artists are.
Bob Ostertag – something of a hero to O’Connor and Juan ‘Silent Servant’ Mendez- is a 54-year-old composer, writer, political commentator and improv musician. Born in New Mexico in 1957, he’s perhaps best known for his collaborations with John Zorn, Fred Frith and others in 70s New York, during which time he experimented extensively with sampling, tape manipulation and custom-made electronic instruments. In the 80s he became increasingly involved with political issues, particularly those of revolutionary South America. After releasing the album Voice of America, he moved to El Salvador and lived there for seven years, during which time he withdrew from music entirely.
Instead he focussed on writing about the political situation in Central America, his work appearing in such publications as The Guardian (London), Piensamiento Propio (Nicaragua) and even the clandestine journal of the New People’s Army in the Philippines. A widely acknowledged expert in his field, he has spoken at such prestigious US institutions as Yale, Princeton, Rutgers and Harvard.
In the late 80s Ostertag took to music again, working again with Frith and Zorn and releasing Sooner or Later, his response to what he’d witnessed and experienced in El Salvador. His masterpiece, though, is 1999′s All The Rage, commissioned by The Kronos Quartet. Originally conceived as a collaboration with David Wojnarowicz, All The Rage was completed as a solo work after Wojnarowicz’s AIDS-related death, using recordings of a riot for gay rights that took place in San Francisco.
Since then Ostertag has delved yet deeper into electronic music composition. After 10 years working with the same Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler, he began using a laptop in ’99 and writing his own performance software through Max/MSP. Various multimedia works and performances have followed, but most of his time is now taken up by his role as Professor in Technocultural Studies at UC Davis, and his invariably remarkable forays into recorded music remain sporadic at best – which makes his appearance on Sandwell District all the more unlikely, and all the more welcome.
Crucially, Ostertag’s Sandwell offering is very much a collaborative work – it’s produced by the mysterious Rrose. We’re not at liberty to divulge the identity of this artist, but we can tell you that he is someone with whom many electronic music fans will be familiar.
We’ve been lucky enough to listen to the duo’s 2×12″ and what’s immediately striking is the extent to which it adheres to the established SD aesthetic, even as it subverts and enriches it. For the most part, it is firmly, recognisably techno music – with a robust 4/4 metric and an evolved sense of dub-space – but Ostertag’s modular synth contributions lend it a very live, unstable, almost biological feel. It’s difficult to think of adequate comparisons – as Regis says, “there’s only one Bob Ostertag” – but the eerie pulsations of Anthony Manning and Conrad Schnitzler spring immediately to mind.
This release represents an exciting and ambitious development for one of the world’s most exacting and quality-controlled techno labels. Look out for the drop, and in the meantime those of you who missed out on the SD vinyl album might want to snaffle up that CD before it disappears. Tracklist below, sound clips here.
Sandwell District CD tracklist:
1. immolare ( function version ) – function
2. grey cut out (version ) – sandwell district
3. blood tide ( regis mix ) – female
4. hunting lodge ( berlin live ) – sandwell district
5. falling the same way ( version ) – sandwell district
6. Svar ( live graz ) – sandwell district
7. Untitled ( Regis Edit ) - Silent Servant
8. untitled – Regis
9. speed and sound ( Z/ARTS lab version ) – sandwell district
10 .immolare ( silent servant version ) - silent servant