Friday, August 29, 2008

Dance imperative

R&S have found a new distributor in the UK and are shortly to release an In Order to Dance Best Of, with inevitably the hardcore rave period of roughly late 1990-early 92 looming large in the overview. It’s an unusual situation to see several of one's absolute fave raves – either gleaned though 12 inch or LP collection and immersion at home or mainly via the thrill of the dance itself – the subject of archivist curation.

Formed by Renaat Vandepapeliere & Sabine Maes, Ghent-based R&S took the Detroit escapes to space and put on a post-new beat/industrial European hedonist and rehumanised superstructure, beefing up every element for the native Belgian crowd, but also receptive audiences in Germany, the UK and elsewhere, a new generation of alternative consumers. All the plastic synth riffs, aggressive drum machines, techno stabs and occasional cheese noises still sound big. Functional futurism within the western capitalist leisure space, as branded by their Ferrariesque logo.

However, as at the time Human Resource’s Dominator is still a track too far, a musical one-trick pony. The sort of track where you looked around at each other not sure to approve or abuse. Too much fairground. Now it suffers even further as the hoover riff has been put to much better use over the years. Outlander’s Vamp sees how far it can take the ascending bouncy synth riff but works better; it always did generate a huge, grinning reaction in '91, a tune that would be picked apart by more indie-leaning mates as representative of all that rave-as-unsophisticated noise but it worked.

The two artists rightly given two slots are Joey Beltram and Aphex Twin. The Brooklyn DJ’s still-colossal Energy Flash, which you would always hear at provincial or London raves until late 92, is still a stupefying display of controlled nihilism. Break Energy Flash down and it doesn’t add up - hip-house with a bit more hard-techno percussion bolted on, a simple acid bassline, a few other placeholder squiggles and an Orbital string loop and a mock of the UK e-heads with the Pitched down and ominous Ecstasy… Ecstasy. Mentasm showed a much better manipulation of that fast-growing hoover riff, a tune of dark, scraping attrition in among rave’s forced happiness.

Didgeridoo is still a work of sublime, shapeshifting 160bpm crusty jungle techno. It was a pity that Aphex spurned melodic for a more clattering strand in his junglish excursions. I can’t play mine as it was scratched and bent on both sides by a drunken guest of a shared house at university, but I’ve kept the vinyl and inserted a drawing of Richard D James in the sleevehole, as above. Yes. It’s that sad. And it could be actual Ferrari (jazz-funk) freak Jay Kay. Analogue Bubblebath, which was on the B_side of the original pressing of the 12”, kicks off the comp, more of an indicator of what would come on Selected Ambient Works 1 (also on R&S) but also fast and blissful to dance to too. Went down queasily well at a warehouse in Farnham, back in the day etc etc etc.

Radical Rob’s (or FSOL’s) Monkey Wah has similarly nice synth washes and too belied the hardcore techno label it was becoming associated with. CJ Bolland’s Camargue, never in my racks or memory, is an effective proto housey trancer, but surprisingly light and cold in touch. An Optimo edit of the percussive Capricorn’s 20HZ on the Remix sampler is a welcome addition.

Of the non-peak era stuff, Model 500’s I Wanna Be There with Atkins’ giveaway escapist eponymous refrain stays as an indulgent but faintly effective fluffy builder, while its most populist track, Jaydee's Plastic Dreams, bounces along with effective jazzy certainty. Since the mid-90s they have been living on past anthems, I guess.

The In Order to Dance series went pure techno, and R&S would emerge and drive the genre’s rise to pre-eminence in dance music culture for several years, veering between Detroit-style warmth with Dave Angel, Larkin and co and pure rhythm experimentation with other emissions on the outer limits. They also tried to get into the more ‘scientific’ end of the UK jungle scene to a mixed reception.

Although this CD has no completist claims to documenting the label’s prodigious output, it is representative as many of its most standout and influential tunes are on it. R&S revelled in the UK at a time when the main scene was going breakbeat heavy, but was still polyglot enough and just post-rave enough (ie, literally the next scene to follow) to not to have to worry about specific terminology, least of all ‘techno’. Hardcore was a state of mind, an anti-urbane, anti-sophisticated flash. But it was not all cartoon breakbeat techno, and as such some of the rhythms prosper as proper bangers in this drum machine-dominated, non-breakbeat loop era.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jacket pangs

Nothing projects quite so much careerist vacuity as the leather jacket. Badly concealed within that thick animal piping and cosy lining lie blatant aspiration and a dearth of inspiration/imagination in the wearer. Good designs do exist and it’s not often the generic jacket itself, but those signals. Not, as might be desired, a classic, effortless cool au James Dean or for the more risqué Sid Viscous, but “look! I am a twat of a clotheshorse but more importantly I just spent A LOT of money”.

The leather jacket still irritates the hell out of me, even though the tribalised importance of identity via clothing has been disclaimed in pick ‘n mix modern popular culture. In music, the black number deliberately donned for the photoshoot is usually a harbinger of nothing so much as creative decline. New bezzies Arctic Turner and Rascal Kane of the Last of the International Playboys or whatever they’re called, who we’re assured are only about 20, were featured in a Guardian Guide feature all spruced up in expensive cowhide – the sort that are embarrassing even on 40-somethings let alone people half their age, with the obligatory smug face for accompaniment. We made it because we put strings on our album, see?

There is also a picture of the newly reformed (but they said they’d never would!) Verve, where all four members’ torsos were clad in leathers. What were they projecting? This went beyond the casual functionalism that placed them in the northwest lad-rock tradition. Maybe a desire for realist difference from the excitable young music out there; those guys are having fun but we know music is a biz, and all those pockets are great for stashing the drukqs. Uday Hussain would know - he didn't see past rebel stereotype in wearing the leather, as portrayed in the coked-up, shoot 'em up nutter in the House of Saddam.

In the office too, even though extra indication is not often needed those who come in on dress down Friday with the old leather usually reserved for, I dunno, a weekend’s boating along the Solent, will also be the experts in Wankword Bingo. Middle managers all, past slumming it in normal coats, and blah-blah-blah this one will last years so the outlay is justified etc etc dreary ecognomic justification.

Time was Ryder, Brown, Goldie and co used tacky old-school leather styles (and a big leather chain) to signal their street suss and roots, while various other cuts – full-length au Shaft, ie – were recycled through alternative circles. Bling culture brings everything down with it, alienating both statements of class belonging or opposition. And where in previous eras one could stratify the level of cuntishness by the particular style – the flying jacket marked you out as a Sloane try-hard, the ones with zips as a bit of a rocker – the bit of everything for everyone puts everyone in that bracket now. Now there is nothing left but the price tag and the looking over one’s shoulder through your shades as you wear it.
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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The grimace works

Cynics may wish to consign blunted and industrial beats from the rave-breaks-hip-hop junction back in the 90s bin where they came from but Michael Forrest has kept the faith in those riddims and in Majectica Electical – his third full-length and available for free download for a while – they’re really made to work. The nuum of rhythmic experimentation may be seen halting but I see no exhaustion from this producer. The glitchy top-end and processed-but-live brass instrumentation still counterpoint the beats, and other elements come to the fore.

Greater weight is given for ‘electronic’ textures; clean lines of output are given space to work as in Dreaming of Polygamy, sometimes allowed to dominate as in Half Blank Face. Mike has also bowed to the beauty of the simple banger, as Horoskope adds snarly bass and the again-acceptable vogue for kicking but not too fast hip-hop beats, and takes a trip to a bastard church in space. Varied time-signatures abound elsewhere, and we still get cacophonic free-for-alls – such as throughout Why Do You Want a Record Deal? (inviting the A&R to say 'you won’t get one with this ‘noise’!, though a wierd shoegazey voice offsets that), and further nagging sounds come in Some Day and the intro of Go Columbo.

Anger Belly – the tune Mike lost the original of last year, the one appropriating the Crazy Frog ringtone – comes down a bpm or two from the version that first went online, makes the main break a bit heavier for the head nodders and there are more strangulated voices towards the end. Its iteration doesn’t lose its sense of irritation, or its pop-dance brilliance.

Earlier this year, Mike left corporate computer world tedium to give himself time to do this properly. With Majectical Electical he is still exploring possibilities and, importantly, having fun with electronic dance music and not refining his sound to any one genre. He is clearly reaping the benefits of not working in one scene, to one template, or by treating the past glories of producer heroes as a venerable canon. For all that though his work over three albums and his auteur-producer vision deserve some context and some wider props. Mike says ‘this is the one’ and I’m loth to disagree, though greater wordsmiths than me will be able to do justice to the depth of experimental musicality at work here.

Buy Mikeworx at iTunes
Eraserhead Radiator Song reworking
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