Available on: Novel Sound
“Blue synth pop-rooted disco-technoid, smart club anthems.” So reads the genre embedded into the metadata of the MP3 version of Levon Vincent’s debut album, given away by the artist on WeTransfer the day before it was released on vinyl. As a descriptor it’s pretty apt; the thick staccato melodies of opening tracks ‘The Beginning’ and ‘Phantom Power’ sound more like Gary Numan than the psychotropic house of 2009’s ‘Double Jointed Sex Freak’ or the freewheeling juggernaut that is 2011’s ‘Man Or Mistress’ – a track that Vincent memorably said would make people “shit themselves”.
Vincent’s debut album is one to file alongside recent long players from Kassem Mosse and Gesloten Cirkel – somewhere between a collection of functional club material and tracks that could almost be considered songs (or as close as instrumental club music gets to the form). ‘Junkies on Hermann Strasse’ on the one hand is a classic piece of dense, slow-moving techno like only Vincent knows how to make, the kind of track that hits you like concrete tsunami. The minimalism of ‘For Mona, My Beloved Cat. Rest in Peace’ on the other could be mistake for a lost David Borden track.
It’s this blend of styles that makes Vincent’s debut so balanced. Though there are plenty big tracks that sound like they should be rattling the shutters at Panorama Bar – the pseudo-marching band techno of ‘Small Whole-Numbered Ratios’ for instance – there are others that could equally be suited to more intimate confines. The delicate, breathy lead of ‘Confetti’ and frazzled wave-techno of ‘Woman is an Angel’ for example: both very different, but both with that unmistakable touch of something intangible that only Vincent seems capable of mustering.
It’s these more emotionally-charged moments that stick out. The album’s centrepiece is ‘Launch Ramp to tha Sky’, an 11-minute epic climaxing in a dizzying tornado of ascending keys and choral harmony. In anyone else’s hands it would probably feel overly grandiose, but for Vincent it’s a brittle moment brandishing a rawness more concerned with emotional honesty than slavishly creating a “straight-to-tape” sound – one that’s increasingly becoming a stylistic dead end.
This honest emotional core is something that Vincent has always put into his music, but rarely has it felt quite so effortless as it does here. It’s the kind of album you could imagine non-house and techno fans getting behind quite easily, and shows that his appeal shouldn’t just be limited to vinyl collectors. Demand for his records may have been outstripping supply long before vinyl-focused labels like The Trilogy Tapes, Mood Hut and L.I.E.S. arrived on the scene, but Vincent has never subscribed to that idea of exclusivity, nor has he tried to use it to increase his standing among his peers.
“I have never, ever said or advertised that Novel Sound is vinyl-only,” Vincent said in a Facebook post back in 2013. “I think other people say that. I also never limit releases to only 1000 copies or something, simply to make the prices higher on Discogs. You want a digital? Go to Soulseek where I upload them FOR FREE for anyone who wants them, the same day the record gets released. Help yourself!”
Vincent could easily have set up a Bandcamp page to sell his Novel Sound releases digitally and get paid for them, but when questioned about it, he seemed not to be too fussed. Vincent is also a man who recently offered to financially support young producers for a three-month apprenticeship in Berlin – the artists in question, Dublin duo Terriers, have arguably had their lives changed by the experience. Taken as a whole, the inclusion of a track called ‘Anti-Corporate Music’ on his album makes a lot of sense – if house and techno has anything close to a Robin Hood figure then it’s probably Levon Vincent.
Of course Vincent giving away his debut album on WeTransfer isn’t a radical act in its own right – hip hop thrives on a culture of free mixtapes, and Spotify has made the act of even buying an album something of a novelty. But in the world of underground house and techno, where the “vinyl-only” badge is often worn to suggest some kind of authenticity, releasing your music on MP3 at all could be seen as a transgression, whether you’re charging for it or not.
Labels with underground reputations built on the exclusivity of vinyl may make similar claims to Vincent – that they will repress records to satisfy demand and to fight off the Discogs scalpers – but few of them offer digital versions of their music, and almost none will happily give digital copies of their records away for free. Furthermore, vinyl-only labels don’t just shut out those without turntables – they shut out those who live far from record stores, far from distribution centres, and those who can’t afford to pay the increasingly high overseas postage charges to buy records online. In their own archaic way, Vincent’s actions feel quite radical for an artist in his sphere.
“This is music for the ugly ducklings of the world,” wrote Vincent on Facebook when he gave away the album. “Music for swans. If you’re a member of the rat race, climbing around a dumpster with the other rats vying for power, you may of course listen, but know – this is not music for you. This is action against you.” Vincent may be railing against the corporate world in this statement, but his words could just as easily apply to those who use vinyl exclusivity as a means of artificially generating status for themselves. As someone who takes such an inclusive approach, it’s something he’ll probably never have to pander to.