Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Jam & Spoon - Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 (2016 Update)

Dance Pool/Epic: 1993/1994

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

And this CD. One of the earliest attempts at bridging the trance-pop gap. Also a bizarre blend of hypnotic German techno and sun-kissed beatnik Balearic vibes. Not to mention among the first trance albums I purchased for myself, though Dance 2 Trance’s Moon Spirits beat it to my primeval collection by at least a year. Still, I thought I was buying a euro-dance CD with the DJ Dag project, whereas I’d just started my trance indoctrination with Tripomatic Fairytales 2001, willing to take a risk on an LP full of unfamiliar tunes - Follow Me and their Age Of Love remix was about all I knew from them. And hoo, was it an ear-opener, going in weird, unexpected places that even folks already familiar with big singles Right In The Night and Stella were wondering just what the duo were smokin’ in their studio.

Clearly I was too young to know much about the European club scene Jam & Spoon were a part of, and there’s scant reports of initial impression from punters purchasing Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 hot off the shelves. I can guess they were expecting more of the recognizable hits, so how did folks react to the electro-tribal thump of Heart Of Africa as an opener? It took me by surprise only because I wasn’t well versed in much of anything these guys had done yet. Was this track a crazy double-take for those familiar with even their early, charmingly titled techno B-side My First Fantastic F.F.?

Interludes. Skits. How many dance albums did this way back when? Some brief instrumental pieces or drum loops, sure, but spoken word peices like Muffled Drums and Who Opened The Door To Nowhere were a rarity, especially for a supposed trance (or pop) record. Nor did Misters Mar and Spoon skimp on throwing whatever struck their muses into the pot. Ultra long builders like Odyssey To Anyoona and Path Of Harmony, standard (for the time) trance numbers in Nuerotrance Adventure and Paradise Garage, or indulging some ethnic sounds with Zen Flash Zen Bones and Earth Spirit.

Hey, I mentioned way back when that there were many different version of Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 - let’s delve into those! The original-original version had an additional interlude called Operation Spaceship Earth, mostly of orbiting sounds and giggling children. Yeah, I can hear why this was jettisoned for Find Me in the re-issues. A couple years after though, they jettisoned Zen Flash Zen Bones to add another new single with Plavka, euro-cheeseball Ibizan tune Angel (Ladadi O-Heyo). This was not such a good move, and was removed for the 2010 re-issue, along with Find Me. Operation Spaceship Earth was reinstated though, and brought along a bunch of vintage bonus remixes and the epic Follow Me. Huh, you could have gotten that track on a 1993 limited edition version vinyl release, along with The Tribe and all the Tripomatic tracks arranged in a different order. Bet that one fetches a handsome fee on the open market.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Various - A Trip In Trance 4: Mixed By Rank 1 (2016 Update)

Hi-Bias Records: 2005

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

So this CD. What, you thought we were done with trance? Hah, not in the slightest, a fair percentage still left in the tail end of the ‘T’s. Come to think of it, there’s a heavy amount of Updates coming up too. Man, what was it with those early TranceCritic days that had me reviewing so many ‘T’ albums? What indeed...

I’m surprised how much A Trip In Trance 4 has held up. I only ever bought the damn thing as a lark, a promo sticker promising “the true sound of Trance” providing an easy angle to get my rant on. And while I naturally knew Rank 1 and recognized a few names by scene osmosis, a good portion of the track list was still unknown to me; my expectations were brutal-low. I wasn’t expecting something on par with that dreadful Trance V.oice 2 compilation, but I couldn’t comprehend something much better, what with Hi-Bias Records behind the CD. Who even is this label anyway?

Only one of the longest running house music prints in Canada, 2005 Sykonee you git. True, they mostly stuck to the vinyl industry, and very few of their records ever went on to be hits featured on the premier compilations of the ‘90s, but I do recall seeing a few releases of theirs back when: Club Hi-Bias – Climax, Rhythm Formula… um… Well, whatever the case, fortunes favored Hi-Bias in the ‘00s, the print expanding their franchise into several A Trip Into… compilations, including six volumes of A Trip In Trance, each with a sexay lady on the front in progressively near state of nudity. Seriously, the final one is a backshot of the model in her panties, but ooh, still classy B+W stylee!

It was a fun diversion again hearing charming cheese like Alt + F4, Ernesto vs. Bastian’s Dark Side Of The Moon, and Benjamin Bates’ Whole (plus that kick-ass True Fiction from Jan Gustafsson!), but I got more of a kick in digging into the various names on here and where their careers went. For instance, you’ve got way early efforts from Sander van Doorn, John O’Callaghan, and Leon Bolier, some still operating under aliases. Doorn did use quite a few different guises around this time, ‘Sandler’ only good for two records. Damn though, does Theme Song ever remind you how he was projected as one of trance’s future stars. Well, they got the ‘future star’ part right. Bolier almost had just as big a breakout, though Pulsar as Precursor isn’t as good as Theme Song.

On the flipside, its weird seeing several other acts on here amount to little after this. Releases from Jan Gustafsson, Rachael Starr, Hemstock & Jennings, and Jesselyn dry up shortly after. Others took some time finding their footing, such as Airbase, or re-emerged as solo artists. For instance, Joonas Hahmo (of Alt+F4), and that Rank 1 member that technically didn’t mix this CD. I hear he’s been making good bank ghost-writing Armin tunes.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Akshan - The Tree Of Life

Altar Records: 2012

When exactly did Altar Records get their break? Was there positive buzz right from inception? They certainly had enough talent on hand to give them a solid foundation, though much of it was on loan from established prints, names that had already made a mark elsewhere. Truth is when I browse through the label’s early catalog, I don’t see many standout releases beyond the key acts that went on to become staples (AstroPilot, E-Mantra, DJ Zen ‘natch). I didn’t come around to Altar until way late, and most folks I knew didn’t either. Something had to be that trigger though, a catalyst in gaining more eyes beyond early adopters. Seems this debut from Akshan is often pointed towards as one such contender, an album catching the ears of many who’d never even heard of Altar before. Looking at other releases from the label about that time (Solar Walk 2, When Mars Meets Venus, Silence, Fruits Of Imagination re-up), yeah, I suspect mid-2012 gave a good bump for the boys from Quebec.

Akshan more commonly goes by the name of Vincent Grenier, but Lord Discogs doesn’t give much more information than that. Nor does it reveal any prior work to this one, The Tree Of Life not only his debut record on Altar, but debut period. He apparently spent some time honing his craft in the years prior though, a practice that paid off when he finally struck a deal with Altar. For if this LP truly is his first offerings made available to the public, The Tree Of Life is a darn slick first impression. I’d expect nothing less of someone stating Ultimae as an influence.

Mr. Grenier also states Juno Reactor as an act taken cues from. I can hear that, Akshan leaning rather tribal compared to Altar’s usual fare, though not in any overt manner. Tracks like Jungle Fever and Back To The Origin mostly stick to the widescreen prog-psy stylee Altar consistently dishes out, but throws in more sounds and rhythms that recall some of Ben Watkins’ heavier moments. Elsewhere, Adagio For The Braves has a breakdown that features the famous Chief Joseph “I will fight no more forever” speech, though not to as great effect as Peyote’s use of it if I’m honest. Still, that melody after… damn…

As for the rest of The Tree Of Life, it’s an Altar Records album. Um, I’m not sure what else to say beyond that. Most tracks follow a similar template of moody, ambient build, establish a slow n’ steady prog pulse, grow in intensity with subtle swirly, trancey sounds, finally peaking out with a lengthy, cinematic piece at the end. Angels Never Cry has spritely melodies, Symphonic Tendencies indulges the acid along with orchestral swells, Eternity uses stuttering voice pads, and final track Waiting For You features an extended symphonic denouement. There honestly isn’t much variation between tracks but if you fancy your prog-psy and chill with a melancholic flavor, you’ll definitely enjoy The Tree Of Life.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

FPU - Traxxdata

Turbo: 2003

I liked Soundtrack Saga, but didn’t become as big a fan of Peter Benisch’s work until hearing this album. It blew my mind that someone who could craft such lush, expansive downtempo and ambient music, then completely flip the script and offer up something so charmingly retro, quirky, and kitsch. That’s not to say artists are incapable of exploring radically differing styles of music, but it’s typically not done, most content with remaining inside the lane they’re most proficient at. And even if they do reach beyond their comfort zones, it’s even rarer they contribute something unique to whatever genre they’re exploring. That’s why it’s not only remarkable that Benisch went and made an ode to the electro and synth music of the ‘80s, but excelled at it at a time when everyone was doing the same!

No, wait, that’s not entirely accurate. The early ‘00s had everyone jumping on the electroclash bandwagon, which took ‘80s ideas but twisted them upon itself. It was the only way to remain cool while also being blatantly retro, see. Traxxdata isn’t electroclash though. Even the track that kicked the FPU project off, Crockett’s Theme, is as respectful an ode to the original Jan Hammer piece as anyone’s crafted. True, Tiga took that track and turned the kitsch to eleven for Ocean Drive, but that track isn’t on here. About the only other tune off Traxxdata that reaches similar ‘relive decadent Miami’ vibes is second single Racer Car, what with camp lyrics of “Cruising fast, in your racer car, in the night; You look so fine, you look so good, in the night.” I also feel this is one of the weaker cuts, though still having a solid, techno pulse going for it.

The rest of the album flirts between proper-grim electro (Calabi Yau Space, In The Future With Machines, FPU Theme) and peppy synthwave numbers. Wait, what? Synthwave? Isn’t that a relatively new development? Yeah, mostly, though I’m sure you could point to the odd outlier making deliberate throwback soundtrack music at any point in the past two decades - like Traxxdata! Benisch made no secret of where he was drawing influence from, and just as every synthwave producer ever namedrops Jan Hammer, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and John Carpenter, so it also goes with FPU.

And hot damn, are there ever some tasty ‘80s earworms in here! You Don’t Pay My Bills is a delicious slice of robo synth-pop, having me hum lyrics I only half decipher. At the other end of Traxxdata, you’ll find Waiting For Snow, as close to an ‘electro-trance’ tune as I’ll ever allow being designated as such (shove off, Punk). Other tracks find Benisch indulging himself a little more, like a creepy ode to Seven Of Nine (that vocoder!), chipper jaunts across dimensions (Time Safari), and casual strolls through retro-future cities (Eastside Protection). The lone out-of-place track on Traxxdata is closer Endgame, and only because it sounds like a leftover from Soundtrack Saga instead. Worth! It!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Various - Traveler '03

Six Degrees Records: 2003

The only hope a label like Six Degrees Records could have at success is predicated upon a compilation series like their Travel CDs. Take a casual survey of their roster, and most likely you’ll draw a blank on seventy percent of them. I only familiarized myself with Six Degrees because Banco de Gaia found a new home there after his Planet Dog/Mammoth deal ended (prints going out of business will do that). And while I’ve since found a few interesting acts alongside him (dZihan & Kamien, DJ Cheb I Sabbah …The Orb!?), most draw a big ol’ blank from me. It’s my way-Western bias, see, forever limiting the sort of global exposure I could have at the tips of my earlobes. Names like Batidos, Niyaz, Issa Bagayogo, Cibelle, Ojos de Brujo, Bossacucanova, and Willy Porter are well outside my sphere of influence, and while Six Degrees’ manifesto is all about dropping some worldly musical knowledge on folks such as I, it’s all a bit much to take in for any but the most daring of global trekkers.

Hence the Travel series, a (mostly) annual compilation rounding up Six Degrees artists familiar and obscure as a showcase for the curious. Even a passing familiarity with the label should have folks weaned on the likes of Karsh Kale, MIDIval PunditZ, and Bob Holroyd, but who among thee know of Bobi Céspedes, Lumin, or Qwii Music Arts' Trust Khoi San Music? No, don’t lie, you’ve never heard that last one before, because this is the only place within Lord Discogs’ tome of knowledge it appears. Who even is Qwii Music Arts' Trust Khoi San Music? Fortunately, the inlay provides handy write-ups of the artists within. For this particular track of Xlao Tshao, we are told “These “Bushmen” of the Kalahari Desert and their music have evolved from 25,000 years of indigenous culture. They believe their music has the potential to heal their community through rhythm.” Well, that wasn’t much help at all. I could tell this was charming African-folk music just from hearing it, thank you very much.

That’s about the best way to take in Traveler ‘03 in, simply playing the CD back and hearing all the various cultures represented. And don’t worry about being too over-cultured, as Six Degrees’ main goal has always been about bridging these wide cultural gaps with easily-digested global grooves. Lots of downtempo dub, shufflin’ Afro-jazz, and even some braindancey breaks action care of Lumin’s Izgrala. MIDIval PunditZ’ Dark Escape has a brisk techno pulse going, while Ben Neill’s Bugfunk and Karsh Kale’s GK² isn’t a touch out of classic breaks, but with an ethnic twist.

And if all that isn’t enough of a bridge, there’s a bonus second CD with Traveler ‘03 of straight-up club remixes. Right, some of these are Latin clubs or jazz clubs, but house clubs too. Heck even Berghain jocks would rinse out that ultra-deep David Alvarado rub of Sylk 130’s Romeo’s Fate. How’d that get on here?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ed Rush & Optical - Travel The Galaxy (Original TC Review)

Virus Recordings: 2009

(2016 Update:
Deary me, but was this review ever a comedy of punctuation errors. Love that semi-colon any harder, 2009 Sykonee. This was a latter-era TranceCritic write-up too, so I should have known better than that. Maybe collegiate essay writing had gotten the better of me? Whatever the case, I've corrected a bunch of those eyesores, though not all - can't let me off on every past transgression. One that most
definitely needed amending was calling Ed Rush & Optical 'darkside'. Fool, they're tech-step, slowly morphing into darkstep. Trust me, if TC had a Junglist Oversight Committee, I'd have been fired on the spot for that one. (why would a trance website have such a committee...?)

This was Eddy and Optical's last record for quite some time, the duo finally returning to the LP market just this past year with No Cure. Naturally they kept busy in the interim, but fans were starved for a while, which gave
Travel The Galaxy ever increasing kudos for what it accomplished. It probably didn't hurt that darkstep saw something of a resurgence when 'drumstep' entered the scene, a hybrid of dubstep that freely took cues from darkstep's aggressive, attacking basslines. The two sub-genres mesh quite well together, many up-and-comer jocks playing ample amounts of both in their sets. I approve.)


IN BRIEF: Not much new, but so what?

In some ways, the backlash against ‘darkstep’ was the best thing for that sub-genre of drum’n’bass. Everyone was in agreement that the sound had grown overbearingly worn-out shortly after the turn of the century, which allowed the liquid funk camps to easily take over. Though the old guard that championed evil basslines and such never relented, all the imitators and band-wagoners were eventually cleared out, and ‘darkstep’ is now firmly back in the hands of the pioneers. Sadly, nearly all but the most dedicated has forgotten about them in the process.

There’s just been far too much time and new directions in the scene since seminal singles like Alien Girl sent partiers quivering into corners with fear. Neurofunk, rockin’ Pendulum… all that stuff Ed Rush & Optical spearheaded and nurtured with guys like Technical Itch and Dieselboy seems quite old hat today, a relic of a by-gone era when their scene was quite willing to suffocate on its self-created abyss. Folks needed an escape and by golly, the Hospital crew, Soul:r, and, er, Pendulum were willing to offer some respite from the horrors Virus Recordings and their associates were generating. But it’s not like the sound ever lost its destructive force on a dance floor. You can still find tracks being rinsed out by jungle DJs the world over, but as accentuated points within a set rather than being a running theme. Apathy over the techier side of take-no-prisoners d’n’b is still apparent though, so it’s a bloody shame the new album from the sub-genre’s standard bearers - Ed Rush & Optical - will go relatively unnoticed. Travel The Galaxy is probably one of the most satisfying full-lengths of darkstep and neurofunk in some time; and not just as a strong collection of singles, but as a complete play-through as well, which is remarkable because they barely stray off their chosen path.

From the moment you press ‘Play’ and for a long while, this album has a feeling of business as usual. Oh, business is definitely good but long-standing detractors of Eddie and Op’s sound aren’t going to find anything of interest here. For the faithful though, there’s plenty of choice to gorge on. You got your rollicking sci-fi beasts like City 17 and Temper; there’s your swinging sub-sub-bass funk groove in Magical Thinking and Chubrub; Snaggletooth, the obligatory cut that seems purely designed to torture your bass bins. Some knowing winks to the old guard with their vintage sounds, like a vocal sample in Snaggletooth saying “darkside”, followed by the classic vwwompp-vwwompp Reece bassline (yes, it may be a cliché, but these two wrote the book on that cliché, so it’s allowed - forward written by Grooverider). And then a couple solid cuts that could very well be b-sides (Padded Cells and Move It). So all well and good; the album’s certainly worthy of a 7 up to this point. However, Eddie and Op don’t seem content with such a score, so they start breaking form a little in the latter half of the album.

G-Force Jesus throws in ominous choirs with the galloping beats and basslines, which of itself would be pretty damned cool, but Eddie and Op take things one step further with a breakdown which could have been a solid slice of tech house on its own. At first, The Kindred seems like ‘just another tech thriller’ akin to Temper, yet there’s far more energy to this cut than heard elsewhere. Same with Titanium, which shares status with Snaggletooth as a ‘bassline experimentation’ cut, but my God is the bassline here ever something to behold - like an Imperial Star Destroyer reactor come to life! And finally, in one of the ballsiest moves I’ve heard from the neurofunk camps, Eddie and Op take a stab at liquid funk in Space Monkey, of all things. The epic builds, the wailing divas, and the exhilarating momentum - all Hospital staples, yet here imbued with the kind of sci-fi attributes you’d expect from Virus.

Even with this strong finish, Travel The Galaxy still seems like a 7 on paper, as we’re mostly stuck in the realms of darkstep and it can be rather excessive to endure for a full album’s worth, especially so with the uncompromising final cut Schrander's Dice. Yet, when you actually listen to this album, you can’t help but get caught up in the themes and energy Eddie and Op present to you. In fact, that’s always been the draw of jungle of this sort, and despite it not being as popular as before, these twelve cuts prove darkstep still has all the power and heart it once did. That’s worth the extra little nudge up a mark.

Fans will love this album, haters will likely ignore it. For the rest of the potential audience - those who’ve, say, grown tired of Pendulum’s shtick - there’s plenty for you to cut your teeth on here. Travel The Galaxy may be walking familiar territory, but it’s nonetheless a solid starting point for the curious.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2009. © All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Alter Ego - Transphormed

Klang Elektronik: 2005

That Roman Flügel and Jörn Elling Wuttke would take a stab at chart action was surprising enough, though understandable given everyone’s fondness for thrashy electro during the mid-‘00s. The fact they used their Alter Ego alias as a means to accomplish this however, baffled a whole pile of long-time followers. For in the decade before Rocker became a club smash, the name Alter Ego carried a pedigree of ambient techno and IDM class, their self-titled debut and follow-up Decoding The Hacker Myth some of the highlights of Sven Väth’s seminal Harthouse print (to say nothing of other popular projects like Acid Jesus and Sensorama). Not that those seeking more Rockers cared about such prestige, Alter Ego emerging fresh as the new acid sun with the album Transphormer for all they knew. It had been some time since Decoding The Hacker Myth, I’ll grant.

But that’s not the album I’m reviewing today. Oh, I had intended to get Transphormer, my Alter Ego appreciation of old none the sullied by the duo’s foray into electro-trash. The fact I saw the duo’s rebranding record for a fiver on the Amazons didn’t hurt either, figuring there were at least a few decent cuts worth the asking price. Somehow though, I instead ended up with the double-disc remix album that spun off from Transphormer’s success. At first I was all, “wait, there was a remix album from this?” And then I was all like, “well, it’s not what I ordered, but its two CDs for the price of a quarter of one, so I guess it’s fine.” But then I was feelin’ like, “Aw, dang, this is 2005 remixes, which means a bunch of dull tech-house and minimal wankery, don’t it. I don’t want to listen to this.” And in all the years since I got Transphormed, I never did.

Turns out my hunch was correct, but before the remixes of Transphormer, there’s CD1 of Transphormed, a collection of remixes that Alter Ego done did themselves. Whatever reservations I still had about their new sound are promptly vanquished here, wonderful rubs on tracks from a wide array of acts. Fashion Rules! from Chicks On Speed sounds like something LCD Soundsystem would have made, Alter Ego get deep into the electro-funk on Solvent’s Think Like Us, Octave One’s Blackwater treads near the realm of bumpin’ micro-house, and Riton’s Angerman is marching Vitalic bosh in the hands of Flügel and Wuttke. Throw in appearances from Human League, Primal Scream, and 2Raumwohnung, and you’ve a surprisingly fun CD of Alter Ego remixes. Not that I doubted it.

CD2 though, yeesh. Ultra-minimal micro-house from Isolée and Robag Wruhme. Dull tech-house from Rework and LoSoul. Noisy nonsense from Riton and Ewan Pearson. And twelve-plus minutes of minimal-plucky gibberish from Ricardo Villalobs (because of course he’d need that much time to go nowhere). At least Solvent turns in a fun electro tune with his rub, and Eric Prydz drops his impeccable anthem touch to Rocker. Bow down to your Swedish God.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Various - Transmissions From The Planet Dog

Mammoth Records: 1995

Planet Dog was doing well for itself within their motherland. Legendary festivals, highly touted roster of genre-bending musicians, nods of approval from famed DJs like Sasha and John Peel. Finding a Stateside distributor was inevitable, but going with Mammoth Records was an odd choice. The print out of Carrboro, North Carolina was primarily a rock outlet, dealing with alternative, industrial, and indie. Some of their more successful acts included Machines Of Loving Grace, Seven Mary Three, Squirrel Nut Zipper, Kill Creek, Vanilla Trainwreck, and The Bats. I’m sure they are all perfectly wonderful bands in perfectly wonderful scenes, but yeah, drawing a big ol’ blank on most of these. But then, I’m sure most Americans were drawing big ol’ blanks on names like Eat Static and Banco de Gaia, so to help their Planet Dog chums from across the Atlantic, Mammoth released this double-disc primer featuring the label’s biggest acts (re: those who’d released a full LP).

As such, CD1 of Transmissions From The Planet Dog is hopelessly redundant where my own collection is concerned. Essentially the Eat Static/Banco showcase, it borrows three tracks from Abduction, two from Implant, three from Maya, plus a remix of Qurna that was used in most live versions of the song anyway. They didn’t pluck the best Maya tracks either, and though I don’t have Eat Static’s Implant, the two tracks they have here didn’t inspire me to rush out for that record. But hey, if you need a cheat-sheet of both early careers, this CD does a decent job introducing them.

For my money though, the highlight is CD2, where Timeshard and Children Of The Bong get to strut their stuff. Granted, the same problem remains, in that if you already have the albums from which these tracks came from, it’s another wholly redundant collection of tunes. Hell, half of Timeshard’s debut album is on here! On the other hand, Children Of The Bong’s contributions are pretty rare for the three tracks you get, one coming from an early tape-only release, and another found on an obscure, non-Feed Your Head Planet Dog compilation.

Even so, considering both Timeshard and Children Of The Bong didn’t last much longer beyond the compilation, their back-catalog grew rather difficult to procure, making Transmissions From The Planet Dog one of the few places you could find their music anymore. And believe me, these guys are worth checking out if you fancy yourself the psychedelic side of electronic music. This is psy dub before the genre really had much demarcation or boundaries for itself, fearless in whatever sounds, instruments, and influences were thrown into the pie. Electro rhythms in acid-drenched Ionospheric State? Go for it! Epic sojourns of mystic lands across the shores of Space Goa? Crystal Oscillations got yo’ back! Ultra spliff haze as dubbed out in Symbol I? Groovy, man. Woozy acid-dub while jamming with Ravi and Jimi? Only with Oracle. Considering how polished psy dub turned after the millennium, it’s refreshing hearing some so deliciously crusty.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Juno Reactor - Transmissions

NovaMute/Metropolis: 1993/2008

An album often hailed as birthing goa trance, though ask ardent techno collectors and you wouldn’t know it. Wait, techno? Yeah, guy, Juno Reactor first appearing on techno print NovaMute. In fact, the Juno debut single, Laughing Gas, was released smack between the first two Plastikman records, Krakpot and Spastik! The early promo material even had Juno’s sound billed as ‘progressive techno’, a term immediately and rightfully tossed to the dustbin of Stupid Genre Names. ‘Progressive’ already had a claim to house, thank you, and we don’t need it attaching itself to more genres. Huh, trance? What is this? Don’t you mean ‘space techno’ from Berlin?

Truth is Transmissions does lean heavily into the domain of acid techno of the early ‘90s, but with enough floating synths, trippy acid, and hypnotic builds such that it does what trance done did in that era too. For sure it’s a unique blend of the stuff, music that owes some inspiration from tribal rhythms and cosmic harmonies being exported from the shores of Goa. You can’t blame the psy scene for taking the Juno Reactor style and flooding the market with an uncountable pile of knock-offs and retreads. Okay, you could, but seeing how some hardcore techno heads have continued to claim Transmission as one of their own, don’t you think it’s about time to let it go? There’s no shame in owning a proto goa trance album in your collection, o’ ye’ Disciples Of NovaMute. Hell, even Juno Reactor themselves fully embraced the demarcation after this, signing with clear-cut goa label Blue Room Released for their follow-up albums Beyond The Infinite and Bible Of Dreams. Or wait, were they left homeless by NovaMute for leaning too trance in the first place? Clarify the controversy!

As a debut, Transmissions is a darn solid album, though quite simplistic by Juno Reactor standards. The boys behind the project at the time – Ben Watkins, Stephane Holweck, and Mike Maguire – were no slouches in the music scene, having worked the London circuit in various bands for much of the ‘80s. Holweck in particular was a long-time partner of Watkins, including as part of the proto-Juno group Electrotete, plus finding time to make music as another early goa act in Total Eclipse. They knew their way around gear, is what I say, with enough background in other music to throw their distinctive spin on acid techno.

High Energy Protons features that gnarly acid bassline that’s been a Juno staple since literally forever (because it’s here, on the debut!). We also get a few vintage sci-fi samples, plus one of their more ‘rockin’ tunes in Man 2 Ray, which led them to becoming such favorites in industrial circles. Also, a requisite ambient closer with Landing, which sounds like the sort of meditative noodly stuff you’d find in Megadog chill tents. And folks still try planting the techno flag on this album? For the standard acid techno, sure, but with mystical stuff like this included, I don’t think so.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Marcel Dettmann - Translation EP

Ostgut Ton: 2011

Marcel Dettman, kinda’-sorta’ Important Person in the world of techno, has put out a fair share of EPs in his decade long career. I mentioned in my previous trip into his music that most agree he’s better suited to that format, his style of German-functionalist club music not one intended for sitting back at home with tea and crumpets. And I wonder if that’s what’s kept luring me back to hear his stuff, hoping to get that sense of mental transference whilst lost in his thudding rhythms, imagining myself in the throes of a legendary Berghain set I’ll never get to experience myself. Or maybe I will, if that pilgrimage to Berlin ever manifests itself. But why would I want to go all the way to Germany just to stand in line for a while, potentially being turned away when my Canadianism blatantly signals me as a tourist? They don’t like them kind ‘round Berghain, so’s I’ve head. And with so much culture to take in those lands, my time would be better served checking out other famed locales. Does Tresor still have cool techno nights? Maybe I’d luck out with a throwback Omen party! Mmm, vintage German trance…

So nay, my only hopes for the Methodical Dettmann Experience (also the name of my experiential lo-fi indie-skweee jam band) is to live vicariously through the singles he supplies. Or maybe those DJ mix CDs he puts out on market that I’ve yet to actually pick up. Why haven’t I done that yet? Reviews of them have been mostly positive, even among the staunchest critics who never got bit by the Berghain bug. Maybe I should… No, no! I’ve got enough backlog already, the last thing I need to do is add more to it. Control, control, I must learn control!

Like the sort of control I exhibited back in 2011, when my buying habits were rather skint due to lack of interest in the new and (then) now. That Dettmann fella’ though, he had some interesting music, and while I didn’t find his debut album much to get fussed about, he showcased a sound worth keeping tabs on should he move beyond the rote-loop techno-tool style of music making. It works wonders as set pieces, no doubt, and it’s always those Dettmann moments in techno mixes that kept me checking further, to hear what else he might come up with if given room to stretch.

I’ll find no answers with Translation EP though, another tidy collection of tidy loop-techno head thumpers that run between a tidy five and six minutes with little variation between. The first track, Barrier, hinted at something more, with moody, bass-heavy techno-drone and astro-chatter. Ooh, actual concept! Nope, Translation One and bleepy Translation Two going about as toolly as techno goes, though One does have some nice flange on its percussion. Last track Planning has a herky-jerky thing happening, mostly plonky and annoying for its duration. Not the techno I wished for, lad.

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