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 a classic Jeff Mills collaboration from 1989, industrial-meets-hip-hop from Sensational & Kruton and a new 12″ from Mr. Fingers.
Given that Larry Heard is basically responsible for deep house, he’d be forgiven if he wanted to take a back seat in the later stages of his career. ‘Qwazars’, however, proves he’s still got plenty of creative fuel in the tank. Built around a simple three-chord refrain, the dissonant background synth and stargazing vocal lend the tracks an ethereal quality that’s also grounded in the communal dancefloor experience of his classic ‘Can You Feel It’. Not only is ‘Qwazars’ is one of the first Mr. Fingers tracks in over a decade, it’s an early contender for house anthem of 2016.
Bill Converse’s story is a lot like many other underground US techno producers: he makes music with hardware, put out a solitary cassette on an obscure tape label, and now finds himself getting a vinyl release thanks to a bigger imprint. The twist in Converse’s story is that his big moment comes courtesy of San Francisco’s Dark Entries, a label best known for reissues of ‘80s electronics from acts like Severed Heads and Crash Course In Science.
It’s easy to see why Dark Entries are so taken by Converse’s music: Meditations/Industry was recorded in 2012 and 2013 but sounds like a proto-acid album recorded in 1982. It fits into the recent trend for improvised straight-to-tape synth jams, but comes without the self-consciously lo-fi trappings you’d expect from a label like L.I.E.S. It has more in common with the spindly, evolving techno of Tin Man’s Acid Test label, and makes a killer addition to the label’s growing list of contemporary releases.
Bleeper Feed/April These 12″
While other producers in Bristol move closer to straight techno, Batu gets weirder with every track. His latest record sounds like he’s been listening to a lot of Errorsmith productions; the pitched synths of ‘Bleeper Feed’ have the same woozy sheen as recent PAN cut ‘Protogravity’ and the prickly rhythms on ‘April These” could have been plucked from an MMM B-side. Livity Sound records are guaranteed to push the envelope, but this 12″ proves Batu is capable of one-upping Pev, Kowton and Asusu.
The revival of the breakbeat has given us plenty of updates on the ‘90s hardcore template in recent years. Munich’s Skee Mask is another to add to the list of producers recycling jungle rhythms, but rather than the nostalgic pirate radio throwbacks by the likes of Special Request, the producer places his breaks among ambient textures and spaced-out euphoria. It’s like Shed’s 2008 classic Shedding The Past suspended in zero gravity, proving that there’s more to Ilian Tape’s lead-lined techno sound than just functional bangers.
Ohio producer Fabric was responsible for the very first release on Spectrum Spools, the label run by former Emeralds member John Elliott. Back in 2011 his music had a lot in common with the contemporary kosmische of the now defunct trio, but after a five-year absence he appears to have been reborn as an abstract techno producer on the label of Manchester club night meandyou.
‘Pink Grid’ ditches the glacial synth wash and carefully programmed arpeggios, but Fabric still smears his amorphous synth textures broadly to overwhelming effect. His contribution to the various artists Bookbinders EP is a slow and heady piece of techno, but not in the Andy Stott sense; the track’s halftime kick drum and distant percussion puts it on the cusp or breaking into a sprint at any moment.
Deep Into The Cut LP
We Can Elude Control
If your enthusiasm for Jeff Mills’s endless orchestra collaborations and film scores is waning, We Can Elude Control’s reissue of Final Cut’s 1989 album Deep Into The Cut will remind you why the Detroit producer is still so revered. A collaboration between Mills and Anthony Srock, the LP is notable for being a key meeting point between industrial music and Detroit techno.
While the album’s political commentary on things like the hysteria surrounding pornography seems a little dated, the music has aged a lot better than much of Mills’s late period material. It slams as hard as anything he’d go on to make on Waveform Transmissions Vol. 1, but with Srock’s influence the album feels more like a collection of songs than straight club tracks. If you’ve been left cold by Mills’ oeuvre previously, this is the record to start with.
With Patsy/Swimming 12″
It’s usually easy to identify a Tessela track. The UK producer has been using jungle breakbeats since long before it was fashionable, but his latest pair of tracks are pure loop techno along the lines of early Robert Hood or Daniel Bell. Despite the shift in approach, ’With Patsy’ and ‘Swimming’ have the same grounding in UK rave as his older material, with rhythms that gradually contort themselves into a euphoric crescendo. This is the straightest techno Tessela’s made, but it’s still got the same glint in its eye.
Matt Karmil has lived in London, Paris, Stockholm and Cologne during his career as a producer, and this nomadic existence comes across in his music, which blends emotive, Dial-esque deep house and a hip-hop approach to sampling. It makes his music difficult to pin down; while he’s released euphoric bangers for Beats in Space, he’s also put out abstract house tunes for Studio Barnhus.
Karmil’s best tracks occur when he hones in on one sample and flips it in an unexpected way, and his new album for Bristol’s Idle Hands label does that across 13 succinct tracks. Karmil manipulates sampled woodwind and crusty old piano loops in the same emotive way as John Roberts on his classic Glass Eights, but the way he deconstructs the inner workings of rhythm recalls Actress at his best. Karmil has been just under the radar for a while now, but this album deserves to get him more widely heard.
Sensational & Kruton
You In The Right Spot EP
Milo Smee’s Power Vacuum label has always been stylistically diverse, but the music it releases always boils down to one thing: techno. Smee’s interests weren’t always so rave-focused however; his Kruton alias, most recently associated with Andy Blake’s defunct Dissident label, took influence from hip-hop as well as acid. It’s an alias he’s dusted off for his latest release, in which he collaborates with NYC rapper Sensational.
The instrumentals were salvaged by Smee from a collection of beats made between 1997 and 2003, but their jagged, hardware-constructed rhythms feel contemporary enough to be beats that didn’t make the cut for Yeezus. Their collaborative EP is arguably more hip-hop than techno, but like the rest of the Power Vacuum catalogue, it’s pure party music.
Not Waving isn’t the most obvious addition to Powell’s Diagonal stable. In a previous life the producer formed one half of Kompakt duo Walls, and his recent records for Emotional Response have also floated towards the kosmische end of the spectrum – not exactly the chaotic, raucous bangers you’d expect from Diagonal. As the name of his latest album suggests though, Not Waving’s latest album is a different beast.
Most of the tracks on Animals have a lot in common with the music (and DJing style) of Powell: it’s an album full of gristly, EBM-inspired basslines, analog gurgles and drums that sound like they’ve been sampled from old post-punk 7”s. That’s not to say Animals is just more of the same. Not Waving’s music offers a colourful contrast to the jet black humour of Powell and reinforces what makes Diagonal’s approach to techno stand out – fun.