Thursday, November 26, 2009

Twenty years and still thriving

Oh the fun and games I’ve had with Warp20. Originally, I had asked for it as a pressie from my partner (at that price it would cover a few birthdays and Christmases), so was prepared to wait patiently as my December b’day approached. But then George jumped the gun, burning me the Chosen and Recreated double CD elements of the box set.

Trouble was the CDs came with artwork but no tracklisting (ungrateful twat!). That should only entail a quick web search for tracklisting, but I then discovered that through a quirk of George’s iTunes settings that they had not been ripped in track order – where I expected Autechre it started sounding like Squarepusher, Grizzly Bear more Boards of Canada. After a few initial listens I decided I don’t like playing Guess the Artist so a forensic check was necessary. Early cross-referencing of each track with the online playlist and counterpart in the iTunes shop revealed they were ripped alphabetically across the two CDs, so the first CD of each filled up to the time limit with 16 or so tracks, the other just a handful. I had nearly matched all four individual CDs but was still two short on the Recreated CD – having reckoned without bonus tracks. Shazam on the 2580 solved the first – Maximo Park droning out Vincent Gallo’s When to nice effect, but it didn’t solve the last one. Luckily I divined that the languid Nu Yorickshire funk was Nightmares on Wax (remixing Mink’s Hey! Hey! Can you Relate?), and the listing was complete. I could now enjoy without ignorance.

Some thoughts on the music itself, I hear you wail. Well, both elements do more than enough to make you admire the innovation that the label has associated itself with and fostered in its 20 years. The Chosen package of classics compiled by those who voted through warpnet and Steve Beckett are broadly sympathetic in taste and weighted to the big guns - two and a half tracks each for Aphex and Pusher, two each for Autechre, Boards and latecomer Battles, and other acts’ standouts such as Broadcast’s Tender Buttons and LFO on there too. Still not quite getting the loose structures and Dyke Park/Wilson stylings of Grizzly Bear with their Colorado. Windowlicker still astounds for actually making being able to make a tune of Burroughsian cut-up, and I’ll always have a place for the restrained edginess of Freeman Hardy & Willis Acid. I have never understood while I haven’t been an active proponent of Autechre’s mathtechno; Drane's strains in particular really appeal. The dramatic synth vacillations of Clark’s Herzog also stand out among those I’d never heard (actually quite a few, but I’m not going to run through my non-completist consumer buying habits again).

There are a few anomalies – Nightmares on Wax’s I’m For Real was not that good then and isn’t now and only seems to be here to remind us that Warp once put out proper dance music (Forgemasters maybe just, but Sweet Exorcist and Tuff Little Unit were leftfield even at the time of breaks, bass and bleeps). Should have been Dextrous or Aftermath (even if they were both on Warp10). And BoC’s Roygbiv is playing to the gallery (where those gathered will already have it on chillout CDs), but is at least offset by Amo Bishop Roden.

Ignoring the fact that its second disc comes up as Joel Zorababel, Recreated has a whole host of artists involved in reactivating the extensive back catalogue. It offers a big treasure chest of goodies but even a Warp fanboy might find he has to rummage through a mixed bag first. Some remixers go against the Warp grain and even their own styles, others pursue deconstruction to variable success: Haswell’s Cabasa Cabasa stops and starts the techno beat with interstitial squiggles to little effect but Rustie’s Midnight Drive fares better in working modulated thuds against a space-riff as snatched words and song drop in and out, as does Hudson Mohawke’s Night Paint the Stars (probably not worth noting the original producer in any case as if I haven’t known the originals and they can’t have bearing on the listening).

With experimentation positively encouraged – listeners will spot but not necessarily be put off by the occasional indulgence such as Born Ruffians’s double-rmx-in-one of Aphex – and acoustic and delicate synth psych (Diamond Wrist Watch, Gravenhurst, Liddell) also features, sometimes it sounds like an adventurous artist double-album, or one long Saturday afternoon at ATP. Other early ones to have sunk into my consciousness are Plaid’s take on Plone’s On My Bus, its downtempo orientalisms a nice foil for Sylvian’s Ghosts, Bibio’s respectful swelling of BoC’s Kaini and Leila’s heavy piano minimalism on the Twin's Vordhosbn.

Warp was brave enough to know that next-level techno futurism had been largely done and needed complementing and challenging, and the irony is that output such as Jimi Tenor’s Japanese Electronics cover of Elecktroids is now merely traditional fayre. It is one of the few labels where it makes its listeners feel a stakeholder in the fruits of production, and as with all democratic process I’ll have individual grumbles but these shouldn’t detract from the overall achievement. Be brave and whack it on during your Christmas parties, watch Gramps shock out to Clark’s twist up of Milanese’s Mallaeable and the port and lemon might just go down a bit faster for Nan as she blisses out to Gravenhurst take on Broadcast’s I Found the F.
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