With hundreds of records released each week, it’s difficult to keep track of what’s going on in house and techno.
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 and albums.
This month’s records cover archival productions from the glory days of IDM, weary tales of Berlin clubbing, brooding London techno with shades of UK hardcore and and essential jam for the summertime.
With artistic identities more fluid than ever, it’s often difficult to tell the difference between a real archival release and one that’s been made by a contemporary artist. Take TB Arthur for example, a producer whose tracks were supposedly made in the ‘90s and lost for decade, and who is now playing Berghain gigs. Or Shinichi Atobe, the lost Japanese producer who resurfaced on Demdike Stare’s label in 2014 with the sort of album most artists could only dream of making. In both of those cases, the backstory is so romantic it’s better to remain in ignorance.
Another collection of archival work that could be new music masquerading as something from another era comes from from Swedish producer Mika Hallbäck, best know for his work as Grovskopa and Rivet. According to Hallbäck, Hilt is a collection of tracks made under the name Kovsh between 1998 and 2008, but given their modern sheen and Hallbäck’s misdirection when he adopted a masked identity a few years ago as Rivet, it would be reasonable to assume that the album is another piece of rebranding.
Listen carefully though, and the evidence points to Hilt being a very real, and very good album of IDM-influenced material made with cheap digital outboard gear back in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. If you listen carefully, you can even hear the sort of hardware sequence skipping you can find on Autechre tracks of the same era – sounds you don’t get with Ableton.
Autechre and less known acts like Bola and Gescom are probably the main points of reference, but the doom-laden steppers techno of ‘Ultraviolet somn’ could just as easily have been inspired by Trent Reznor’s Quake soundtrack from 1996. ‘Kronometrar’ sounds like it could have come from the later end of the period the tracks were recorded, with dubby, bouncy sounds that parallel what Shed was doing in 2008. One thing is clear from the release of Hilt: a full-scale IDM revival is long overdue.
(Where To Now?)
Anastasia Vtorova’s new record will come as a shock if you listened to her promising EP for Peder Mannerfelt’s label last year. Genau House is equally as good as the blackened, abstracted techno of the For Sweden EP, but its mechanical rhythms, dub chords and breathy vocals are a world away from her earlier work. It feels almost like a pastiche of the range of styles you’d hear in Berlin over a weekend: dub techno, tech-house and industrial-edged sounds mashed together into two tracks that tell a very weary tale of clubbing in the German capital.
Kassem Mosse’s remix of ‘I Can Mend Your Broken Heart’ will be the draw for most people, but the real joy lies in Vtorova’s original and ‘Friday Night’, tracks inspired by failed Tinder dates. Dark, brooding, overcast techno has reached saturation point over the past few years, but Vtorova’s approach is a wry, sideways glance at the culture that has more in common with the “techno interests me” meme than anything you’d hear on Blackest Ever Black. If you’re a jaded fan, this record might just bring back your enthusiasm.
‘Fusion (Broadcast Mix)’
“Things will be better in Future Times.” The motto that adorns every record on the label run by Washington DC’s Max D isn’t a hollow branding exercise, but a mantra that imbues every one of their records with some kind of ultra-chill powers. The number of laid-back hits the label’s had since 2008 are too numerous to mention, but in the past 12 months alone it’s given us a bonafide summer anthem from Mood Hut member Jack J in ‘Thirstin’’ and a flotation tank house classic in Shanti Celeste’s ‘Being (Ambient Mix)’.
Future Times exists in a parallel universe that’s constantly drenched in rays, but still, newcomer Will DiMaggio’s ‘Fusion (Broadcast Mix)’ is about as close to bottling up summer as the label has come. On paper, DiMaggio’s blend of slap bass, looped vocal and warm melody isn’t that different from anything Vancouver’s Mood Hut and several of the acts on the 1080p label could have cooked up. But in practice, his take on the well-worn combination jazzy licks and funky rhythms witnessed through an Instagram filter is a sign that there’s life in the chill house formula yet.
‘When Round, They Go’/‘When Round, They Go’ (Terekke remix)
South Korea-born Peggy Gou isn’t the sort of producer you often hear on Radioslave’s Rekids label. Her music has faint traces of the rigid, rolling tech-house the label made its name with, but Gou’s touch is much deeper than most of the Rekids roster. She only debuted in January, but she’s already put out three records, including one for Phonica Records. Like Galcher Lustwerk (who provided a remix on her first record), Gou’s skill lies in blending chunky, wall-shaking drums with fragile chords, but with a shot of muscular acid.
‘When Round, They Go’ is the kind of house track you could only imagine being played early in the morning; the beats are tough but the synths underneath droop like heavy eyelids. L.I.E.S. regular Terekke is the perfect choice of remixer for the track, taking the sleepy original further into an REM dream state by transforming it into a psychedelic cloud of delayed keys and granulated percussion. It’s not easy to replicate that feeling of being dead on your feet in a club at 8am, but both versions of this track are as close as it comes.
Forest Drive West
Earlier this week, Burial’s self-titled debut turned 10. Few albums have captured the sound of a city quite as powerfully, released at a moment when pirate radio still filled the airwaves and raving hadn’t been decimated by club closures. It’s difficult to say what the sound of London is in 2016, but the music of Forest Drive West (seemingly named after a street in Leytonstone, east London) feels like an appropriate update of Burial’s hauntological map of the city’s musical underground, a degraded techno fog that swaps euphoria for anxiety and the pulse of dubstep for a 4/4 rhythm.
Whoever Forest Drive West is, the music doesn’t sound like an ex-dubstep producer making techno. Instead, it’s like the memory of UK hardcore struggling for air under a techno beat, audible in the low snarl and paranoid, high-pitched frequencies of ‘System’ and the syncopated kick and threatening, oscillating sub-bass of ‘Show Them’. In the latter is a sample from Steve Reich’s 1966 phase piece ‘Come Out’, which used a vocal from Daniel Hamm (one of the Harlem Six) and repurposed it as artistic protest. It’s not clear if ‘Show Them’ is making a political statement as explicit as Reich’s original, but it lingers in the mind in a way a lot of techno doesn’t.
Scott Wilson is on Twitter.