With hundreds of records released each week, it’s difficult to keep track of what’s going on in house and techno.
We’re told on a regular basis that pressing plants are at breaking point, but you wouldn’t think it given the sheer volume of house and techno 12”s being pressed each month. The number alone makes it difficult enough, but the proliferation of watered-down deep house and identikit techno tools doesn’t make staying on top of things any easier, and that’s before you consider the digital-only music, mixes and live streams we now have to choose from.
With this in mind, Scott Wilson brings us FACT’s house and techno column each month to highlight the best and most interesting music in the form of 12”s, EPs, remixes, albums and mixes. With the club environment splintering off into different directions, it’s easy to forget that there’s just as much innovation in the house and techno scenes right now. Of course, sometimes a track’s just a banger, and there will be plenty of that too.
This month there’s high-definition dub techno from Earthen Sea, frazzled electronics from Charles Manier, scrambled club oddities from Via App and more.
Invisible Switch LP
Joey Anderson is a rare thing in house music: a producer who’s managed to create an entire musical vernacular. “His music has its own characteristic of Joey that no one would be able to redo but him,” his friend DJ Qu told RA in 2014 of his impressionistic style, whose melodic fluidity would feel more aligned with free jazz were it not for the consistent 4/4 pulse that underpins his music.
Anderson has never been the type of producer to reinvent his sound from record to record, so it’s unsurprising that his second album for Dekmantel, Invisible Switch, is very much like his first. It’s got the same iridescent chords, pulsing basslines and trance-inducing structures, but it’s also got a darker, more explicitly surreal edge. ‘Reset’ feels like it might open a gravity well up underneath the dancefloor, ‘Amarna’ throws its flailing synth line into a shredder and ‘Beige Mantis’ sits upon a granite kick and razor bass that sounds considerably more industrial than you’d expect from Anderson. It makes for some of his best material to date.
Breaths Written Outside Gloom EP
Paris producer Voiski’s ‘From White To Red’ remains a personal favourite of the L.I.E.S. catalogue, a track that tapped into a giddy euphoria rarely heard on the label. It’s still present on his Delsin debut, Breaths Written Outside Gloom, but it’s much more restrained. In ‘Downhearted Holidays’ it’s a feeling that builds steadily rather than explodes, and in ‘Answer Silently’ it simmers under a 110BPM rhythm.
Though the EP’s other two tracks fall into the category of “pulsing modular techno workouts”, they still tap into a bubbling intensity that other producers find difficult to match, with ‘Galaxy Call’ and ‘Mathematical Park’ both climbing to different plateaus of intensity without feeling the need to increase the pace or reach for the distortion. Another record that shows why the Paris techno scene is currently rivalling that of Berlin in terms of creativity.
Jacob Long may have started out playing bass in post-hardcore band Black Eyes over a decade ago, but his techno is far from the scuzzy, lo-fi variety. Like his friend and sometime collaborator Daniel Martin-McCormick (aka Ital), Long creates melancholic, spacious electronic music that shifts its shape just out the corner of your eye. In that respect, Ink is a perfect name for his debut LP: it swirls and spreads itself across the channels as delicately as two liquids mingling in a test tube.
You could call what Long makes “dub techno”, but that term doesn’t really capture the full breadth of his talents. The piano keys of ‘Unseen Life’, for example, glint in a way that sounds as if they’re steeped in late autumn dew, while ‘Days Are Getting Shorter’ evokes the feeling of wandering out of a blizzard. At its best dub techno always brings these visual metaphors of the natural world to the fore, but with Long’s music it’s like watching them unfold on a 4K screen.
7 Headed EP
As you might expect from a producer who cut her teeth in Boston’s DIY scene before migrating to Brooklyn’s thriving electronic underground, Via App’s variety of techno leans towards the stranger, more experimental end of the spectrum. There’s certainly no shortage of this kind of dance music around, but Via App’s is some of the most thrilling, and also the most pop.
7 Headed is her second release for 1080p, adding a touch more shine to the angular dancefloor oddities first seen on last year’s excellent Dangerous Game. Via App’s tracks all seem to have some variation on the same gristly rhythmic backbone underpinning everything, but it’s the way she arranges glittering keys on ‘Baby K Interaction’, pitch-bent chords on ‘Poison’ or rubbery strings on ‘Sunkissed’ that turns them into the kind of pocket symphonies that go far beyond lo-fi club fodder.
Taraxacum is only Leif Knowles’ second album, but he has 12 years of production experience behind him and it shows – the longing Rhodes phrasing on the title track is as masterful as anything Floating Points is capable of. Leif’s approach is less obviously blissful however, tending towards the psychedelic – the Steve Reich-inspired phasing of ‘Tuesday Nothing’ and the lopsided funk of ‘Air, Light, Time, Space’ are two of the album’s embarrassment of riches.
It makes sense that the first artist to release a record on Knowles’ UntilMyHeartStops label in 2012 would be Joey Anderson. Like the New Jersey producer, Knowles creates deep house that exists inside its own self-contained universe. It’s somewhere that a minimalist synth track like ‘An Elephant Madness’ can happily co-exist with the electronic folk of ‘October Light’ without sounding out of place.
It feels as if we’ve been waiting a long time for a proper debut from Alvin Aronson on White Material, having been a loose member of their circle for a few years. I expected to be lukewarm about the City EP, but it’s easily as good as any of the label’s other releases. Of all the White Material roster, Aronson is closest aligned to Galcher Lustwerk in style – his music is rough but not too self-consciously lo-fi, and deceptively deep in character.
Where Lustwerk primarily takes his inspiration from house, Aronson draws from a twilight strain of techno. ‘Fog City’ sinks his trippy drums into an atmospheric murk, while ‘Extension’ sounds like a 90s Detroit cut stripped back to its most basic elements. ‘Drone Techno’ also suggests he has a sense of humour. It’s by far the most effective track on the record in a club context, its title seemingly taking a swipe at the proliferation of bleak techno that prioritises mood over rhythm.
American Manier LP
Tadd Mullinix is a man of many aliases. Dabrye and James T. Cotton are the most recognisable, but it’s as Charles Manier where the real magic happens. In 2013 he released a collection of productions under the alias on Traxx’s Nation label, and it was one of the year’s most underrated albums, channeling the early electronics of acts like Liaisons Dangereuses, Richard H. Kirk, Chris & Cosey and countless others into a frazzled self-portrait of the producer’s darker side.
Mullinix’s second LP under the guise, American Manier, feels a lot like an introspective look not just at the Manier character himself but the psyche of the USA. The sloganeering spoken word of ‘Auctoritas’ is like ‘Losing My Edge’ if it were written by Severed Heads, while ‘Stag Error’ sounds like its been made by a proto-house version of The Fall, and the woozy, faintly terrifying psychedelia of ‘Deatomized’ even reminds me of the infamous Max Headroom TV network hacking incident. There’s plenty of reverence for this era of music, but few manage to put their own stamp on it the way Mullinix does.
Italian producer Herva isn’t an obvious fit for Planet Mu, having made his name on Bosconi and Delsin with sample-constructed house and techno with the texture of classic Chicago and Detroit club music. Herva’s music does, however, employ a similarly futuristic vision as Actress, using it to create abstract club tracks that halt and stutter across the dancefloor. In that respect he’s perhaps the perfect candidate for Mike Paradinas’ label, which has always taken an interest in those working at the fringes, no matter what the genre.
Kila feels like a considerably brighter album than his last, 2014’s Instant Broadcast. While that record was steeped in subterranean, sci-fi gloom, Kila revels in the more playful side of Herva’s sound, resulting in something entirely different. The IDM-referencing rhythms of ‘Seat Behind Mirrors’ sound like they could have come from the mind of Richard D. James, while ‘All Good On Your Side’ is like a maximal Theo Parrish impersonation. There’s even an attempt at cybernetic footwork on ‘Dust Cover’ and ‘Fog’. It might be stylistically all over the place, but it’s also the most innovative record he’s made yet.
Imaginary Lines LP
When it comes to deciding the end of year lists, some of us might need to bend the rules slightly: 2015’s biggest house track wasn’t released this year at all. You’d have to have stayed out of the clubs all year not to have heard ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’, the cult 2004 track by Amsterdam producer Fatima Yamaha reissued by Dekmantel, and given the near-universal adoration for the track, it’s difficult not to feel some trepidation going into his debut album.
There’s nothing on Imaginary Lines that comes close to ‘What’s A Girl To Do’, but that doesn’t mean the album doesn’t hit similarly sweet notes. It’s equal parts classic French touch and vintage Italo; if you slotted in ‘Shuppatsu’, ‘Borderless II’ or ‘Only Of The Universe’ into Alan Braxe’s The Upper Cuts it’s unlikely anyone would bat an eyelid. The album’s high point is undoubtedly ‘Sooty Shearwater’; like ‘What’s A Girl To Do’ it takes a perfect loop and coats it in enough cosmic Valium to make you feel like you could listen for hours.