There’s something to be said about an artist making deliberate attempts to remove themselves as much as is possible from the creations they make in contemporary music. It’s a rather bold move in a climate seemingly fed by the cult of personality, be it on either underground or popular wavelengths; with so many artists attempting to market themselves as reliable brands and personalities, it feels increasingly rare these days that a producer willingly hides behind the curtain as a way to focus attention upon the music they create rather than using masked anonymity as a tool to feed the cult.
A small, UK-based DIY operation calling themselves Paranoid London emerged in 2007 with a single-sided 12″ and a clear, no-nonsense mission statement that left no questions as to what they were doing: ‘We Make Acid’. That single, credited to One Last Riot, was a rough, raw throwback to classic throbbing warehouse synthesis featuring Chicago house pioneer K Alexi Shelby on vocals, chanting the titular A-word over a track that seemed to nod to Alexi’s own 1989 classic ‘My Medusa’. This structural template – conjuring new acid tracks with vintage gear while respecting the roots of their creative heritage via collaborations with some of the forefathers of their sound – became a key component to the Paranoid London modus.
After one further 12″ featuring the soulful voice of Chicago scene vet Paris Brightledge, One Last Riot vanished for a few years only to reemerge in 2012 with a pair of blink-and-you-missed-’em singles that sparked a fresh wave of interest in Paranoid London – now the name of both the label and the collective centered around production duo Quinn Whalley and Gerardo Delgado. One of those singles, ‘Eating Glue’, featured a newcomer from NYC named Mutado Pintado who delivered a beguiling, off-the cuff spoken monologue that reimagines LCD Soundsystem’s droll tirades as influenced by King Missile’s John S Hall circa ‘Detachable Penis’ rather than the caustic cynicism of The Fall’s Mark E Smith. It was ‘Paris Dub 1’ that really made people pay attention, though; the track’s stark, kinetic minimalism featured one of Brightledge’s most warm yet gripping vocal turns, floating atop a commanding wallop that turned heads and moved asses.
The label’s analogue purist code – no promo, no CDs, no downloads, no nonsense – is a policy exercised religiously by the duo, much to the frustration of many heads with modernity on their minds. What’s clear is that the music does indeed stand on its own, and impressively so; many of PL’s productions slot in seamlessly with many of the classics of the Chicago scene’s Trax/DJ International/Transmat salad days. While the work of contemporary acid producers like Tin Man and Recondite aesthetically revisits and pays homage to the compositional majesty of producers like Larry “Mr Fingers” Heard, Paranoid London’s approach is more akin to the perverse industrial thump and squelch of Green Velvet, or the stripped and serrated rough rides of Adonis. There’s a raw toughness to these tracks that comes from live interactions with hardware as opposed to cut’n’paste sampledelia and locked grid structures, eliciting a gritty, salty electricity and musky funk that seems to perspire out of these grooves. After endless clamoring and begging for represses of many of these tracks, the duo have finally issued a proper full-length album which compiles several (though not all) of the key 12″ cuts, as well as a number of new productions.
Pintado has the heaviest vocal presence on the album, his laconic voice muttering through the dilapidated structures of four of the album’s 10 tracks; his two previous single turns are included, along with the clanging tumble of ‘300 Hangovers A Year’ and album opener ‘Light Tunnel’. The former sees Pintado mumbling like a city street vagrant as a groove thick with bass and clanging timbres tumbles ahead of him like a broken version of the Mr Fingers classic ‘Washing Machine’, while ‘Light Tunnel’ is essentially a reworked version of the demo version of ‘Paris Dub 2’, one of the few cuts from the 12″s not represented here.
That’s a shame, because aside from a show-stealing appearance by DJ Genesis on acid-gospel centerpiece ‘Lovin’ You (Ahh Shit)’, it’s Paris Brightledge who brings many of the album’s highlights. ‘Paris Dub 3’ is one of the album’s most atmospheric and overtly heady productions, evoking stormy landscapes not dissimilar to Mark Ernestus and Moritz Von Oswald’s epochal work as Maurizio; a new edit and mix of ‘Paris Dub 1′ closes the album, and its power hasn’t diminished at all. Brightledge’s impassioned cries of solidarity and pride toward his dystopic upbringing (“The streets is where I’m from, where I really feel at home… / I come from serious places / Average people run, though / Cause they won’t face it / Broken homes and cigarettes / Discrimination with no education / And reefer papers”) paint a portrait of this music’s heritage while paving a road toward the one place Brightledge found escape: the dancefloor.
That same desire to provide a kinetic alternative to the more clinical and cosmopolitan gloss of much contemporary house music runs through all of Paranoid London’s work. They tap into the same no-frills DIY aesthetic that shaped the beginnings of the house scene – Trax Records had legitimate punk rock connections via both label manager Screamin’ Rachael Cain as well as famed Chicago punk/industrial record shop, label, and nerve center Wax Trax – and their refusal to play by the rules is admirable, if also wholly frustrating when it comes to actually obtaining these records. While not a new turn of events by any means, as fans of producers like Detroit figureheads Moodymann, Kyle MF Hall, and Theo Parrish will tell you, Paranoid’s wholly anonymous approach does with acid what Pom Pom did with dub techno (though the latter’s approach is far more austere, if no less playful).
It’s hard to predict how long the duo can or will hold true to their promise, but if it continues to lead to results like this, here’s hoping that Paranoid London maintain radio silence; their debut is one of the most eclectic yet visceral house records of recent memory. That they manage to show respect to the diversity of acid’s beginnings while delivering dirty, brutal tracks without pandering to nostalgia is impressive and refreshing. Track this album down by whatever means necessary.