Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Various - fabric 54: Damian Lazarus

Fabric: 2010

*cover art brought to you by fabric's “Alternate Uses For Old Bed Sheets” period*

How is it that I now have two mixes from Damian Lazarus? His Crosstown Rebels label material isn't one I've actively sought out to own, though if I had to pick one minimal-deep-tech print to indulge in, theirs is a cut of ketamine I've enjoyed more often than others. They provide a good vibe, one where I could easily find myself continuously shuffling upon a rooftop or summer patio had I decided to spend my vacation in such locales rather than the great Canadian outback, subjected to rippin' winds, blistering sun, and thunderstorms. On the other hand, ooh, dinosaur tracks!

Where was I? Oh yeah, fabric 54. We've finally come to the end of this year's Fabric On A Budget, and let me tell you, I'm leery about doing another one next year. If so many came available on the cheap in but one year's time, I can't imagine how many more might crop up by Spring Of 2015. Like, there are still another eight fabrics and FabricLives in the 30s I've yet to see on the used market. Man, folks sure didn't like those years, did they? There were a few great ones from what I've covered (The Glimmers, Tayo, Ewan Pearson, Craze), but yeah, kinda doggy all around.

Which doesn't have much to do with Damian Of Lazarus's offering in fabric 54, a couple years removed from all that. The music's quite different too, no longer stuck in tedious minimalism drier than a dustbin in Death Valley, though still reaching for that 'deeper than thou' vibe tech-house continued searching for. Naturally, all the hot, trendy names of the time come up: Art Department, Seth Troxler, Four Tet, Soul Clap, Nicolas Jaar, another Lee, Cajmere, and Swayzak. Wait, were those last two still trendy in 2010?

Whatever. fabric 54 ultimately feels like an appropriate set to end this two-week-plus project on. It's rather chill, the sort of music that makes good sense at 9am the morning after. I suppose it could work as main room music too, if it's a small, comfy, intimate environment – not Fabric at peak hour, is what I'm saying, though the fabric series doesn't mind taking a stroll down the hallway to the second room either. There's little to find fault with in Damian's mix, as he doesn't take much in the way of musical risks, an indulgence of '70s psychedelic funk and experimentation from Su Kramer and Bill Holt at the end notwithstanding. In all, a nice collection of house tunes, though kind of peters out from a lack of energy by the end.

I told you fabric 54 was an appropriate end to Fabric On A Budget, Part 2.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
I feel like I'm partaking in post-hipster activism, getting into the trendy stuff after it got popular, then back-lashed. At thrift shop prices too!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Various - FabricLive.43: Switch & Sinden Present Get Familiar

Fabric: 2008

*cover art brought to you by FabricLive's “Random Crap Smashed On People's Faces” period*

What? No. No! I'm on vacation, damn it. Leave me alone, Fabric On A Budget project. I'll deal with you when I get back in a week. What do you mean I always intended to carry on with this while away from home? Okay, sure, I brought the music with me, but that doesn't mean I'd write reviews for it – keep myself familiarized with the CDs while I was away, that's all. But there's only two left, an end goal in sight, easily attainable, not worth leaving hanging and forceably getting excited for upon my return. This year's Fabric excursion has turned into a slog after all – more good mixes than bad, absolutely, but dealing with the same topic over and over and over drains the creative synapses something dreadful. Maybe I should...

Oh, alright, I'm already bored out here in the Peace River region. Sometimes I forget just how hinter these hinterlands get.

Let's take a look at what's next, then. We're finally out of the 30s, and entering another weird, transitional period in electronic music's history. Dubstep was blowing up big, the nu-EDM was just around the corner, older forms of UK garage were finding fondness among young clubbers, and many producers of the old guard were scrambling to keep up with these shifting trends. The two cats with credits on the cover of FabricLive.43, Switch & Sinden, were riding this wave with some success, in part due to an occasional night at Fabric called Get Familiar. Don't care about the deep underground, simply having an urge to cut loose with fun-time club jams that even the most Axe-drenched bro can enjoy? These guys got you covered – or Sinden does anyway, since Switch wasn't the DJ.

More so, if you love the UK's various rave-garage aspects, you'll adore FabricLive.43. Speed garage! Throwback hardcore anthems! - no actual classics though. Grime-house! (!??) Dubstep! Bassline! (re: speed garage) No 2-step though, that stuff's strictly for the chicky-poos, mate. Only hard wobble dirt low-ends, and rot-snot. Bleh.

I know this stuff's pure heaven for its targeted scene, but my tolerance for hoodlum UK garage only lasts a few tracks before the novelty of shuffle rhythms and south London rappers wears itself out. I've never figured out how such nonsense bassline sounds are taken seriously, but then this is the same country that also gave us 'donk' music. Sinden's mixing doesn't do much to warm the music up either, always in a hurry to drop another track in a different style with no regard for set flow. Can't let the tunes linger too long, I guess, lest the listener realize how silly it all is and put on something with more substance instead.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
I could have bought $5 beers at the nearby redneck bar playing bro-country, and it would have been a better bargain.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Various - fabric 40: Mark Farina

Fabric: 2008

*cover art brought to you by fabric's “Landscape. Just Landscape.” period*

I’ve been writing about music for about a decade now, yet after all that time and God knows how many written, this is my first Mark Farina review. Considering how much I've name-dropped the man's name, that's... astounding. It's not for a lack of having his releases (though clearly I've never bought a Mushroom Jazz CD – enough peers had 'em for my fix), but despite enjoying his brand of bouncy deep house vibes, I haven't been in a hurry to gather all his mixes. The man has so damned many of them, you see.

In that regard, fabric 40 doesn't come off terribly special when stacked against Mr. Farina's discography. When this came out in 2008, he already had a dozen-plus mix CDs to his name, primarily his ongoing Mushroom Jazz volumes. He'd also released plenty more sets on OM Records, plus entries for well-regarded mix CD series such as United DJs Of America (fuckin' classic!) and Ministry Of Sound's Sessions. That he would have a stab at Fabric was all but inevitable given the club-label's occasional toe-dip into Chicago-San Fran deep house waters. In fact, it's remarkable it took all the way to number forty for him to get his chance (guess DJ Heather had priority). Unless you’re a Farina Completist, I can’t see fabric 40 being high on a purchasing list, what with so many other options out there.

As such, fabric 40 has a bit in common with fabric 20 from John Digweed: a set with little selling point for casual fans of the DJ, but more intended for followers of Fabric. They differ, however, in that Digweed altered his typical track-listing with a Fabric audience in mind, whereas Farina’s mix doesn’t. Swell thing if you’ve got a hankering for a little extra West Coast house-bounce in your day, but hardly essential if you’ve dutifully collected every House Of OM CD out there; somehow, Fabric’s core audience doesn’t strike me of that sort.

This is turning into a hard sell, isn’t it? Despite the class on display, Farina’s arrangement won’t thrill either, opening with simmering funk and soul, and maintaining a slow, steady build for the CD’s duration, nary a deviation from his comfort zone. Things may go a little garage (John Larner & Slater Hogan’s Gettin’ Ready), other times deeper with the dub (Alexander East’s Believe En Me). Maybe there’s a melding of the two (Mood II Swing’s Closer (Oliver DeSmet & Fred Everything Mix)), or simply a jazzy bliss-out (Johnny Fiasco’s Last Word). I think he injects a few of his Air Farina skits throughout too, or maybe I’m over-anticipating having to be at the Vancouver Airport in a couple hours. Point is fabric 40 delivers exactly what you’d expect a Farina mix should. If you don’t know what this is... Well, it’s a starting point.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
I need more Farina in my life.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Various - FabricLive.38: Craze

Fabric: 2008

*cover art brought to you by FabricLive's “Melting Material On Predators” period*

Hey now, what have we in our midst? A real DJ! Three-peat DMC Champion at that. Okay, competition winners aren’t that rare in FabricLive’s history, but the music DJ Craze’s plays here is one Fabric hadn’t ventured into: Miami bass! Haha, I bet the label figured he’d do another drum-n-bass or regular hip-hop mix, so props for Mr. Aristh Delgado for adding yet another notch in the series’ already eclectic assortment of genres. True, previous FabricLives occasional drop a tune or two inspired from the Floridian scene, but Craze’s roots run deep in streets among Ocean Drive, and he shows no qualms in using Fabric’s prestige as a love-letter to the city's musical innovations.

And why not? Miami bass and freestyle were thriving genres for a large chunk of the '80s and '90s, a melding of hip-hop and urban R&B utilizing Kraftwerk electro as the genetic backbone. So successful were these offshoots that they practically subsumed electro-proper altogether, one kicking off the bass music scene as its own unique entity, the other taking electro to the top of American dance charts long before anyone else did. Even as those scenes faded from popularity as the '90s wore on (folks grew weary of those Numbers samples, I guess), they maintained a faithful following in their native Miami, of which Craze undoubtedly grew up surrounded by.

That said, the first few tracks had me worrying we wouldn’t be getting that, two cuts from Cool Kida giving us a taste of... ketamine crunk? No, just no. Who even likes such sluggy slop like that? Craze does come correct with some real crunk in Bangers & Cash’s Loose (you know what they’re talking about), but dammit, this CD was advertised as old school. Give me the classics, mang!

Ask, and you shall receive, Craze making no bones about what this mix is showcasing once he drops the original Miami Vice Theme from Jan Hammer. From there, it’s the vintage booming south (Miami Jam Crew’s Pretty Girls; Lushus’ Ho Fo Sho; Fresh Celeste & M-4 Sers’ Give It All To Me), mint freestyle classics (Beat Club’s Security; Debbie Deb’s When I Hear The Music), and even tasty technobass (DJ Magic Mike’s Cutz The Record; DJ Laz’ Red Alert).

Smartly, Craze mixes things up with tunes from newer acts (Chromeo, Armand Van Helden, Blaqstarr, Switch) who definitely owe some debt to the groundbreaking and shaking bass work Miami’s pioneers accomplished. Ending everything off with killer ghetto anthems like Kid Sister’s Pro Nails (produced by Craze’s turntablist compadre A-Trak) and DJ Assault’s Keep It Pushin’ (with too many names on the remix), and FabricLive.38's a CD any self-respecting bass head should hear.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
Miami bass isn’t for everyone (including the previous owner, apparently), but any set that throws technobass into the mix is an automatic win for yours truly.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Various - FabricLive.36: James Murphy & Pat Mahoney

Fabric: 2007

*cover art brought to you by FabricLive's “Cave Drawings In Water Colours” period*

I'm surprised this year's “Fabric On A Budget” venture hasn't turned into as much of a slog as I feared it would. Many of these CDs have been quite enjoyable, some even surprising me in curtailing expectations. Chalk it up to FabricLive's eclecticism, every edition I've covered offering something different from the last. I suppose you could say the same of the fabrics too, but aside from Radioactive Man's pure electro excursion, there isn't that much of a stretch between deep house, tech-house, and minimal house. Compared to the breaks, hip-hop, bass music, rock (!), electro, disco-punk, and mash-up action going down with FabricLive (and I haven't even covered one of the many drum 'n' bass mixes), you can forgive me for finding this series' diversity more exciting than having to indulge in “yet another *blank* house mix” from the other.

Even here, arriving at FabricLive.36, I'm feeling all squee inside, despite knowing almost exactly what sort of music I'm gonna' hear on this CD. James Murphy and Pat Mahoney are LCD Soundsystem, or at least the primary music makers behind the project. Whenever touring with the band, they'd pull a double-gig DJing on the side, which must have let ol' James breathe a sigh of relief not having to bellow out Losing My Edge or North American Scum twice in two nights (to say nothing of his intense cowbell smashing!). As this was about the time they were touring the sophomore LCD effort, Sound Of Silver, of course they'd get a chance at a Fabric mix too – seems the trend with these, after all.

A few tracks aside (Baby Oliver’s Primetime, Mudd’s Adventures In Brickett Wood, Babytalk’s Keep On Move, their then-current LCD B-side Hippie Priest Bum-Out), Misters Murphy & Mahoney (sitcom pitch!) are taking us on a tour of late-‘70s slash early-‘80s disco, garage, and funk. Some tunes are from very familiar names (Chic, Peech Boys, Was (Not Was), Love Of Life Orchestra, Donald Bryd), but being the New York City proto-hipsters that they are, the duo opt for showcasing unheralded acts of the era.

There’s disco-boogie from Gichy Dan’s Cowboys & Gangsters and Punkin’ Machine’s I Need You Tonight (think Tom Tom Club), electro-funk from Elektrik Dred’s Butter Up, and dancefloor-soul from Jackson Jones’ I Feel Good, Put Your Pants on. Also, Good Ol’ James and Pat (lame spinoff show) squeeze in a bit of a Vanguard showcase of the early ‘80s, a veritable giant of independent record labels that’s provided an outlet for tons of jazz, blues, funk, and folk music since the ‘50s.

Mixing? Eh, functional for the most part, given the nature of these DJ unfriendly tunes. FabricLive.36 is more like a mixtape than a live rinse-out with its clever track arrangement – try and guess which disco and funk numbers are actually from the 2000s!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Various - fabric 35: Ewan Pearson

Fabric: 2007

*cover art brought to you by fabric's “We Cans 4AD Too” period*

I recognize Ewan Pearson more than I did Ralph Lawson, but it sure doesn't seem like fabric's musically stretching far compared to its sister series. I could almost write a carbon copy of Lawson's background, Pearson's story in tech-house relatively similar. Sure, their careers have taken differing paths (Lawson stayed in the UK, Pearson headed for Berlin; one occasionally makes his own music, the other remixes a ton; that guy plays tech-house-house, while him dude plays tech-tech-house), but for the layman glancing at all these fabrics and FabricLives, neither are an easy sell when sat among very important techno people like Ricardo Villalobos, Ellen Allien, Rob Hood, and Luke Slater (and that's just sticking with the 30s run).

Oddly, I had to remind myself that fabric 35 almost certainly wasn’t a prog mix, as Pearson’s a name I mostly recalled cropping up in the early portions of prog DJ sets. For sure he’s done work in other genres (electroclash, funkier house, whatever it was The Chemical Brothers were doing around 2003), but that Soma Quality Recordings association probably helped keep Lord Digweed’s eye on him. Even with copious amounts of techno on this CD, fabric 35 kinda’ leans proggy in its construction, feeling more like a ‘journey mix’ than most rinsers of this music go.

I’ll get this out the way: there’s no minimal on here, at least of the plinky-plonk variety. There’s certainly a few stripped-back tunes, like Marc Houle’s remix of Marcashken’s Nimrod and Samim’s Paspd (back when it was still okay to play Samim tracks), but they’re simple lulls before getting back to some groovy techno action. There’s sinister electro vibes oozing from Snax’ Honeymoon’s Over, from which Mr. Pearson offers a great mix into an equally sinister, Latin jazz workout of Jens Zimmermann’s Tranquillité (I honestly thought it was one, long overlay). Remarkably, ol’ Ewan keeps this tangent going with Liquid Liquid’s Bellhead, a rapturous cacophony of Afro-percussion. Who says techno must always be serious digital music?

While fabric 35 doesn’t lose its momentum, it does get a bit over-indulgent at times. Laven & MSO’s Looking For God barely treads the line of tasteful minimalism (thank ‘God’ for a strong groove with this one), and I wasn’t too anxious to hear Samuel L. Sessions’ Can You Relate “what happened to the techno?” sermon anytime soon again. Also, it’s rather odd to end with a mash-up of the soulful croon of Beanfield’s “Tides” – C’s Movement #1 and the neo-trance of Aril Brikha’s Berghain. Or maybe not, if you think of fabric 35 as a progressive set hiding in techno’s clothing. Definitely makes listening to this more fun if you figure Ewan Pearson’s put this together as such.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
A pleasant surprise, this. fabric 35 passed by with little fanfare compared to its sexier neighbours, but there’s plenty to love with Pearson’s offering.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Various - FabricLive.34: Krafty Kuts

Fabric: 2007

*cover art brought to you by FabricLive’s “Cave Drawings In Water-Colours” period*

I’ve generally taken the conditions these used Fabric CDs arrive in for granted. With such a simple design, how can the packaging get screwed over anyway? Cardboard sleeve, tin case, aluminum disc and liner notes within - we’re good to go, right? I never thought one would be shipped with no case, but Krafty Kuts’ FabricLive.34 proved me wrong. All I got was the CD tucked within the sleeve, and wrapped in one of the most ghetto cardboard packaging jobs I’ve ever seen. How this was even allowed advertised as an acceptable condition to sell on Amazon, I’ll never know. I was fortunate enough to have spare jewel cases so I could still stack it in my towers, though I had to 'craftily cut' the cardboard sleeve’s edges to make it fit. Hah!

Anyhow. Krafty Kuts is the man up next in FabricLive, which meant a brief return to the proper breaks scene for the series – like hardcore, it'll never die! Martin Reeves made his name during the nu-skool era, though he leaned more classic hip-hop breakin' compared to the Plumps and Warriors of those days. With a career that held strong even during that scene's downswing, it was an eventuality Fabric would come a knockin' for a taste of those killer Kuts. Probably didn't hurt he'd released a debut album the year prior, his name fresh on the minds of folks still following tunes of his sort.

If you know your breaks, FabricLive.34 probably won't hold many surprises, but you'll enjoy it nonetheless, Krafty craftily sticking to his breaks-and-butter throughout while throwing in knowing winks to those heads that never fled their scene. There’s scratching aplenty, acapellas aplenty, and most of the main players have tracks dropped in here: DJ Icey, Freestylers, Aquasky, and Plump DJs, although the Plump’s Listen To The Baddest is practically electro-house. Come to think of it, most of the middle of this set skews 2007 electro, including copious amounts of the swinging 2-step break that’s only the second most boring broken-beat around (‘Freeland breaks’ earns the top prize).

Speaking of the set’s middle portions, Mr. Kuts unfortunately runs out of steam after leaning a bit too heavy on anthems for a while. A shame since FabricLive.34 kicks off with all the energy you could hope for in a breaks mix (including a cheeky pisstake on ‘minimal’ techno), but builds and drops one after the other always grow tiresome without some sustained rhythmic momentum. Ah well, he at least indulges himself some with a few Latin cuts and even Primal Scream at the end. A strong finish, in other words, even if it’s on a totally different tangent from where his set started from.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
I’m mostly nitpicking about Krafty Kuts’ set flow - can’t be calling this blog Electronic Music Critic without finding something to critique, after all. A solid CD of breaks, then.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Various - FabricLive.33: Spank Rock

Fabric: 2007

*cover art brought to you by FabricLive's “ARTIST NAME IN BIG FUCKING LETTERS” period*

Hey hey! I've now completed a FabricLive cover series too. Surely that warrants a free CD prize from Fabric. True, I'm practically getting these for nothing already, but it's the principle of the thing. C'mon, Fabric, hook a Canuck up with a bonus mix (preferably a good one).

It's an even bigger coincidence that the cover runs of fabric and FabricLive I'd complete are both from the same time, indeed the same issues (31, 32, and 33). What was it with Fabric in early 2007 that folks would want rid of these CDs so badly? True, two out of the five I've covered so far were pants, but another two were ace. Hm, does this mean FabricLive 33 is utterly average like Ralph Lawson's mix?

With a name like Spank Rock, there’s no way we’d get ‘utterly average’. The name alone inspires thoughts of either the slummiest ghetto tech or the cheekiest electrotrash. The group is somewhere in between, more known for their antics in hip-hop’s ‘Bounce’ side of things (what kind of a genre name is ‘Bounce’..!?), but also found a welcome home with drunk-sleaze electro-house clubbing as the ‘00s wore on. This mix is their attempt at condensing their shows into a sloppy, cohesive whole, which sounds like a good ol’ rollickin’ whiskey time. I mean, just look at all these names on here. Kurtis Blow! Yello! Mr. Oizo! Daft Punk! Yes! Metro Area! Tangerine Dream! (??!) Rick Ross! Chicks On Speed! Mylo! (those Talking In Your Sleep guys) The Romantics! Hot Chip! Uffie! More and more! Oh boy, this is gonna’ be like one of those awesome As Heard On Radio Soulwax mixes, I bet. Yeah, if 2 Many DJs had been totally wasted while recording.

Have you ever been to a party where the DJs (usually always two or three) are really cool guys and have fun taste in music, but always resort to pandering with the most obvious fucking tunes around? You cheer them on, ‘cause hey, it’s just a stupid night out, and you like the chaps, and you’re drunk as all Hell off of hi-balls, and ooh, I love that A Bit Patchy song by Switch, even though I just heard it played out by another DJ duo with impeccably deep crates. Oh dear, it’s that Drop The Pressure song again. I’ve heard it too much on the radio already, and dear Lord is that mix into Yes’ Owner Of A Lonely Heart ever rough – can’t you put on something not so played out anyway? Shit, now they’re painfully forcing a mix into Para One’s Dudun Dun. Get your act together, guys. I want to cheer you on (I love Miss Kittin & The Hacker’s Stock Exchange!), but give me a better reason to. Oh, what the Hell, another round of hi-balls!

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
About as worth it as $3 hi-balls. All night.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Various - fabric 33: Ralph Lawson

Fabric: 2007

*cover art brought to you by fabric's “Tacky Phifties Phamily Photos” period*

Hey, this is the first Fabric cover series I've got a complete set of! Yay, triumphant achievement unlocked, and all that rot. Okay, it’s not that impressive compared to those who've subscribed to the club’s CD, but it's not like I'm specifically gathering them for this reason. It's just a coincidence that folks were eagerly offloading fabrics 31, 32, and 33 at whatever price they could get, even a single penny. I can understand doing so for Marco Carola and Luke Slater's mixes, but Ralph Lawson? This one isn't that bad. Kind of run-of-the-mill, sure, but nothing someone should be embarrassed to own.

First, this Ralph Lawson guy. He's kind of familiar to me, though not in that Carola way. It's likely from his 20:20 Vision/Soundsystem work, which I've seen crop up on the occasional tech-house collection. Also, he has a warmer sound in his productions, with a bit of tribal influence too, making him a favorite for prog DJs tracklisting their early portions of their sets. At least, that was the case in during the first-half of the '00s, before everything went glitchy, minimal, and doff in the tech-house scene. As such, fabric 33 comes off rather retro for a 2007 CD, but I'm not gonna’ complain – I'll take early-aught prog over minimal deep-tech anytime. Not that there’s anything terribly prog in this mix, but it sure sounds proggier than John Digweed’s fabric set.

Ralphbert Lawson warms things up on the deeper side of house music, as most DJs of this sort are wont to do. None of that American or German styled deepness though, this be the warm, dubby, cinematic stylee the Western edges of Europe prefer (and me!). Then there’s a little tribal funk (Dennis Ferrer’s Transitions), a plonk of minimal (Badmouth’s Anymore (Phonique Remix); Marc Romboy’s Jigsaw (John Tejada Remix)), a touch of electro (Swag’s Hot Gloves (Bakazou Mix)), a dash of Detroit (Will Saul’s Pause; Nick Chacona’s The “Right” Wing), a drop of acid (Joakim’s Drum Trax (Beats)), a flaking of disco (Justus Köhncke’s Advance), and- why does writing the music out this way seem so familiar?

I honestly have little more I can detail about Ralphbert Paulson’s CD. It flows well, spices things up without being obnoxious about it, and leaves you with pleasant fuzzies afterwards. It’s about as serviceable a tech-house set as you can hope for. Damn it, why couldn’t it have outright sucked? Those are easier to write about. Eh, the being ‘totally wicked awesome’ option? Haha, this is tech-house, the most functional dance music around. Anything more exciting almost always ends up in another genre category by default. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this sort of music for a dancefloor or even as a listening experience – it’s just terribly boring music to write about.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
Sure, I guess. Hey, at least I finished a cover art series for the first time.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Various - fabric 32: Luke Slater

Fabric: 2007

*cover art brought to you by fabric’s “Tacky Fifties Family Fotos” period*

Luke Slater is Planetary Assault Systems, L.B. Dub Corp, Clementine, and Translucent, all very important aliases in the world of techno. I guess Slater under his own name’s important too, what with four LPs, over a dozen singles, and oodles of remixes too. P.A.S.’ the one most techno disciples enjoy namedropping though, and for good reason, the project always two steps ahead of what that scene is accomplishing. But that’s the underground, where he could take more risks. As plain, simple Luke Slater, his productions were broader, dabbling in other genres like downtempo, breaks, house, and even *gasp*, electro-crossover on Alright On Top. It’s curious he never made another “Luke Slater” album after that one.

Really, his whole career went into a relative limbo during the mid-‘00s, likely due to focusing his efforts on running his newly established Mote-Evolver imprint. During that time though, Slater put out a mix for Fabric, only the third mix CD he’s ever released (the two-part Fear And Loathing ran a couple years prior). Maybe it’s for the best, as judging by fabric 32, I suspect studio DJing really isn’t Mr. P.A.S.’ strong suit.

If I can take anything from fabric 32, it’s that ol’ L.B. has an eclectic ear for techno. Not that his own discography wasn’t proof enough, but this mix is all over the place, showing off plenty branches of the genre. There’s dub techno, minimal techno, electro techno (?), prog-techno (!?), disco punk techno (!!?), techno-techno (stop making shit up), and breaks too. Really, this has all the hallmarks of a mixtape, Luke Skyslater showing off his musical interests without much care for technical mixing. Fine and well if the set flows all the same, but fabric 32 doesn’t.

His transitions are often so abrupt, half the time I’m double-taking, thinking I’ve got my player on Random by accident. Some DJs can pull such freewheeling set programming into a thrilling, unexpected ride. This one’s just confusing, Slater unable to settle into any sound for long before throwing an odd tangent. You’d think a set that starts with his own dub techno cut Rhythm Division (as L.B. Dub Corp), and features Basic Channel’s Phylyps Trak II/II near the end (geez, again?) would flow smoothly. Instead, your links are Guy J & Sahar Z’ Hazui (Gui Boratto Remix), Switch’s A Bit Patchy, Spank Rock’s Bump (Switch Remix), Audion’s Mouth To Mouth, The Juan MacLean’s Love Is In The Air (Mock And Toof Remix), and Marin Buttrich’s Full Clip - and yes, in that order. True, there are other tracks among them, but that list gives a decent impression of how Slater’s set unfolds. If you’re familiar with those names anyway (folks reading this blog should be).

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
If it’s an honest representation of Luke Slater’s DJing, I guess so. Though a disappointment, it beats paying cover charge at a club to sate the curiosity.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Various - FabricLive.31: The Glimmers

Fabric: 2006

*cover art brought to you by FabricLive's “ARTIST IN BIG FUCKING LETTERS” period*

The FabricLive series features quite a few acts I’m very familiar with. Due to the proliferation of breaks and jungle DJs, I’ve probably seen a good third of them, those scenes holding strong in various spots of the backdoors of British Columbia, especially so the Shambhala Music Festival. The 'party-in-the-mountains' boasts a vibrant jungle and breaks contingent, and were even early adopters of dubstep when that genre had barely begun its exodus from the UK. Plump DJs, Adam Freeland, Freestylers, Stanton Warriors, Diplo, Andy C, DJ Craze, A-Trak, Drop The Lime, and even all the way up to the latest (lambasted) FabricLive contributors Jack Beats, I’ve had the chance to check out live.

Then there’s a duo like The Glimmers. I’d never heard of these guys before, and upon reading their bio, I feel right stupid for not knowing them. Formerly the Glimmer Twins (re: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards nicknames), David Fouquaert and Mo Becha picked up the DJ trade nearly thirty years ago, playing out at Belgium clubs before raves were even a glint in the UK’s dilated eyes. Their accomplishments were relatively humble throughout the ‘90s, never seeking the spotlight but always in the mix of things within clubland, offering a funky, soulful alternative to rave’s blistering energy or eurodance’s camp. As their tracklists often contained unsung ‘80s hip-hop, rare dub reggae, and ‘70s French disco, some PR guy must have noticed how marketable such proper retro vibes were once such ‘anything goes’ mixtapey mixes grew in popularity at the turn of the century. Suddenly The Glimmers were releasing singles, LPs, DJ mixes (including one for DJ-Kicks a year prior to FabricLive.31 - how did I miss these guys!?), and receiving plenty of deserving spotlight.

Unsurprisingly for a duo influenced by the early days disco and glam, their set runs through plenty of tunes from names recognizable (Roxy Music, Freddie Mercury, Howie B.) to wacky obscure (Arpadys); from upfront disco funk (LCD Soundsystem Disco Infiltrator, their own Kobe’s In Columbia) to ancient oddities (psych-rock fuzz jam Pierre Henry); and we can’t forget those curious trainspotter’s classics either (George Kranz’ Din Daa Daa, The League Unlimited Orchestra’s Things That Dreams Are Made Of).

With all these eclectic tunes and genres, why The Glimmers must be DJ gods to make it all flow smoothly together! Ah, no, not really. Well over half these tracks are pre-‘90s, and as any DJ worth their needles will tell you, beatmatching records from those days is nothing but headaches. Instead, we get quick crossfades, intermittent ka-lumping phrasing, and songs that outright end with a half-breath of space before the next start. There’s just no simple way of segueing disco punk into reggae dub, is there.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
I’m a sucker for mixtape sets unearthing the past as The Glimmers do here. Chalk up another steal for the money spent.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Various - fabric 31: Marco Carola

Fabric: 2006

*cover art brought to you by fabric’s “Tacky Fifties Family Photos” period*

Seeing Marco Carola’s name among all these cheap fabrics gave me a sense of familiarity I couldn’t place for the longest time. You know that feeling, where you just recognize something from somewhere, but only in passing, so you never give it much thought. Mr. Carola kicked that sentiment into high-gear, such that I was looking forward to hearing his mix. It had to be treated properly too, with no background checks that might create preconceived notions or hints of why he seemed so familiar. I’d figure it out as soon as I hit “Play” on my DVD/CD machine, a succulent, solvable mystery guided by music.

Minimal music. Eeeehhh…………

Almost within the first minute of opener Io from Matt John, I remembered. Those flat rhythms, gimmicky echoes on hi-hats, spacious sound design, bleepy bits and dry sterility… he’s been billed with Loco Dice a bunch, hasn’t he. No, more than that, he’d even signed to Hawtin’s M_nus, lock-stepping into the label’s brand of formless minimal techno. And fabric 31’s from late 2006, so it’s gonna be one of those minimal techno mixes, isn’t it.

Yeah. I had some early hopes it wouldn’t turn into the monotonous gob that rendered so much techno unlistenable during this era, as Marco offers some decent groove with the first few tracks. In fact, Gabriel Ananda’s remix of Marek Bois’ You Got Good Ash is damn near funky, in that low grumbling, bassy way tech-house can go. Following it with an actual stomper (Fusiphorm’s I Am… You!), and you’d be convinced too that minimal was good music.

But nay, the set goes into dull, plodding, plonky, effects wank right after, and pretty much stays there for the duration. How dare you think minimal techno could be funky and fun. What’s that, you like melody? AH-hahaah! You naive nonce, this are serious minimal techno. Go listen to drone ambient if you want melody. Instead, marvel at rhythms that encourage a slight shoulder shuffle, and fuck anything else. There’s occasional teases that we might get something better (an actual melody emerges in Ernie’s Escarabajos near the end), but don’t get comfortable, as Marco takes everything back to square, tedious base level with each track.

As it turns out, Caralo’s generated a share of flack in recent years for his chosen sound, and at first I thought that was where I’d heard his name before - a typical namedrop of minimal’s worst tendencies once the backlash began in earnest. After digging into his discography a little deeper though, the final piece clicked. He’d been one of Italy’s prime providers of tough, bangin’ techno at the turn of the century, a veritable leader of that kick-ass scene. Knowing his awesome roots makes fabric 31, his debut DJ mix CD no less, even more wretched - a blatant bandwagon jump that offers nothing of lasting substance in return.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
Fuck no.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Various - fabric 30: Rub-N-Tug

Fabric: 2006

*cover art brought to you by fabric’s “Lensed Deformity Photography” period*

Either I'm getting ridiculously lucky in this year's “Fabric On A Budget” venture, or some folks out there just don't have good taste. Why would anyone want rid of a mix CD as good as this one? For sure a DJ duo fancying them Rub-N-Tug doesn't bode well for those judging acts by name alone – it sounds like some tacky massage parlour in New York City's seedier neighbourhoods. Eh, what's that about them? Oh.

Rub-N-Tug is Thomas Bullock and Eric Duncan, two New Yorkers who played the after party circuit for a number of years during the region's post-Giuliani nightlife recession. This primarily meant small enclaves and lofts above massage parlours, earning their gigs the reputation of being ultra-hip and only for those in-the-know. It also helped if you were up for an 'anything house goes' vibe, the duo simply having fun playing vinyl favorites without much care for super-technical proficiency or journey set construction; good ol' unpredictability, then. They also keep the groove relatively on the slower side, though never crossing into downtempo territory, the sort of rhythm that moves bodies without wearing folks out or pissing off the neighbours living underneath.

Since the afterhours vibe is Rub-N-Tug’s game, making a mix CD for home listening isn’t much of a stretch for ‘em. I’m surprised Lord Discogs lists fabric 30 as their first one, American DJs often needing a couple releases under their belt before a UK label comes a-knockin’ – maybe a Fabric promoter went to one of their after-parties. The names on here run the gamut from familiar (Röyksopp, Claude VonStroke, Ewan Pearson, Âme, Marshall Jefferson, Black Strobe, Serge Santiago, Satoshi Tomiie) to obscure (Nemesi, Rufass, Foolish & Sly, Unknown Artist). Even judging by those recognizable acts, one can tell we’re dealing with an eclectic collection of tunes. House (both deep and tech, but thankfully not deep-tech), disco funk, a touch of the disco punk (it is New York City, after all), and smattering of space-synthy electro-house (ooh, Discopolis from Lifelike & Kris Menace is one fun little anthem at the end).

As a technical set, fabric 30’s unimpressive, most mixes functional and Rub-N-Tug forgoing any sort of journey for long. Of course, that’s how most afterhours mixes play out anyway, DJs free to rinse out records as they see fit. Bullock and Duncan deserve credit, then, for keeping fabric 30 as tightly flowing as they do, considering they aimed at capturing their post-party vibe in but sixteen tracks. The twists they do throw in serve as spice for an already smooth-tasting mix.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
How could it not? Simmering funk, earwormy synths, deep grooves, and soul to spare. It’s a near-perfect cocktail of post-clubbing house music that never falls prey to insipid deep house clichés or vapid chill-out banality. I guess you could say fabric 30 rubbed... and tugged me in all the right ways! (eh? eh? ...*sigh*)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Various - fabric 21: DJ Heather

Fabric: 2005

*cover art brought to you by fabric's “Negative Suburban Life” period*

Is DJ Heather the first female entrant in either of Fabric's series? *backchecks* Huh, sure looks like it. That's surprising, taking so long for a member of the fairer sex to finally get the nod. I know the male-to-female DJ ratio is wildly out of whack, but surely Fabric could have offered it to someone sooner. Aside from those ladies who did get fabrics later (Ellen Allien, Magda), there's... um, hmm.

Annie Mac possibly could have done a FabricLive before, but her career only truly took off shortly after this. For a bold option, Mary Anne Hobbs might have worked, but few knew what to make of dubstep at this point in FabricLive’s lifetime. As for the main series, for sure fabric wouldn't bother with hard house gals like DJ Irene or the Tidy Girls, nor prog-leaning dames like Sandra Collins. Uh, help me out here, UK: were there any notable female DJs that could have broken the Fabric gender barrier earlier? I mean, it doesn't look good on your part that they turned to a Chicago resident when they finally did.

Not that Ms. Robinson isn't deserving of such an accolade, having already earned her house-rinsing stripes in the good ol' U.S. Of A. Her birth land may be the East Coast, but her sound bumps West Coast, often held in standing with another Chicago transplant, Mark Farina. Shortly after releasing fabric 21, she signed with San Francisco label OM Records, a label any sort of proper house-head should be familiar with. Sunny, jazzy sounds on the deeper side of house dominate their roster, and DJ Heather’s no exception.

It’s funny that much of the music on fabric 21 was what many considered deep house around the time, the San Francisco sound so influential abroad. That would change within a year thanks to the Germans, perhaps due to a desire for something fresher sounding than the usual funky American soul. I’ve said plenty before finding house mix CDs of this sort wasn’t difficult, and DJ Heather’s contribution to this cliché keeps it such. The music’s perfectly fine, at times on the dubby side (Marko Militano’s Good People; D’Julz’ Ze Theme; 2-Utes’ Bumpin The BQE),other times raiding disco funk vibes (Kaskade’s Steppin’ Out, with Members Only providing an Akufen-styled rub; both Mike Delgado cuts), and elsewhere taking either the jazzy road (DJ Rhythm’s Brazilian Soul; Mario Fabriani’s Release) or acid path (Maxx Renn’s Acid Jack). It’s a set that doesn’t stray far from familiar territory, but with scenery this fun and funky, who really cares.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
Can’t fault the music at this bargain price, what with most House Of OM CDs still commanding a fair dollar even on the used market. fabric dips its hands into the San-Fran well every so often, so DJ Heather’s contribution isn’t entirely unique for the series. Aside from that whole “First Female DJ” bit, anyway.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Various - fabric 20: John Digweed

Fabric: 2005

*cover art brought to you by fabric's “Negative Suburban Life” period*

Released during Digweed's mid-’00 'wandering' years, fabric 20 isn't as odd an entry as most figured. Maybe that the club would offer their twentieth edition to a prog DJ turned a few heads, but it’s not like ol' John was a stranger to the club. Just about every jock with some tech-house pedigree has played at Fabric at some point in their career, and Digweed's crates run deep with house music of all sorts. Check out his Choice compilation of the same year if you need proof of his eclectic progressive pudding.

Truth is few survive as a top-tier DJ without some adaptability, musical fads incredibly fickle as years wear on. If you’re really damn good at the game, you can dictate how those trends will shift, as Digweed did when he convinced many progressive house was dead, so here’s ‘prog’ instead. Before finally settling on Transitions as his next move, he got to showcase his flexibility on fabric 20, essentially accommodating his skill for set construction into a mix filled with tunes the traditional Fabric audience could appreciate.

Make no mistake, the fabric series built its early reputation as an outlet for house-heads who’d grown weary of prog’s dominance on the DJ mix CD market. Crafty ol’ John definitely knew his audience, then, as there’s hardly any of the sort in this mix. Even the first track, 16B’s mix of Pete Moss’ Strive To Live, has more in common with ambient techno than progressive house; plus, it’s a great track to overlay on Adam Johnson’s Traber, a techno producer that prog DJs adored at the time. Third track Forgive & Forget from Repairs and Richard Davis on the rub is about as proggy as fabric 20 goes, what with its dubby, chuggy beat and soft vocals overtop. Then we’re off to the uncharted realms of ‘other’-house, as far as Digweed’s traditional fanbase was concerned.

There’s disco punk licks (Glass’ Won’t Bother Me (20:20 Soundsystem Instrumental)), bumpin’ funky kicks (Martin Solveig’s Rocking Music), Belgian acid throwback (Billy Dalessandro’s In The Dark), contemporary electro acid (Slam’s Lie To Me (Freestyleman Thirsty Monk Dub)), floaty electro-tech (Superpitcher’s Happiness (Michael Mayer Mix)), and chugging tribal (Joel Mull’s Emico), though this is a sound Digweed’s worked into his sets plenty of times; cool seeing it from another techno guy though. All of which, of course, arranged so you have that vintage progressive house set flow: early lead, mid-set peak, slight dip for tune showcase, strong finish.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
If you’re a Digweed completist, definitely - the guy’s got a lot of mix CDs, and saving money’s always a solid option. As a fabric disc, it’s one of the more unique ones out there, in that it takes a road hardly traveled before or since; the tunes fit the series, the arrangement doesn’t. Still, I’d take this over dry minimal-tech mixes any day. Most worth it, then.

Friday, May 9, 2014

EDM Weekly World News: May 2014

In conjunction with Ishkur.com (re: I've been helping with these for the last few years), it's the EDM Weekly World News, now also available on Electronic Music Critic. The EDMWWN rag is your first, second, and third stop for all the sensational sensationalism of EDM's most sensationalicious gossip!



Back issues available upon request.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Various - FabricLive 08: Plump DJs

Fabric: 2002

*cover art brought to you by FabricLive’s “Urban Silhouettes” period*

Despite residing within a breaks scene that faded into near-irrelevancy as the ‘00s wore on, Plump DJs’ stock never fell. That’s what happens when you almost single-handedly dictate the way a genre goes forward, in this case nu-skool breaks. Sure, plenty of other names could be dropped that were just as influential (must… resist…), but Misters Gardner and Rous always remained one step ahead in the production game, tracks just that bit more polished and class compared to their peers. Small wonder, then, that Fabric would tap the breaks duo for one of their early editions of FabricLive, pretty much the first outside breaks act receiving the honor (Ali B was already a resident at Fabric). On the other hand, they had to follow up John Peel’s mix, an almost thankless task in measuring up to his eclectic variety of music.

Just as well they didn’t try – they had their own Fabric quarterly to promote, after all. And a new album soon (Eargasm). Plus that whole Wipeout: Fusion tie-in (one track and two remixes!). Also at least five of their own productions for this mix. Goodness, are Plump DJs ever savvy business men. Well, maybe not so much with that entry into the dying Global Underground series. Whatever, they command top billing everywhere they play out, a couple missteps along the way can’t hurt. Please tell me the stupid-as-shit ‘anthem house’ track Skylon isn’t indicative of their current sound… (*dong-dong-dong-dong, dong-dong-dong-dong dong*)

FabricLive 08 isn’t too surprising of a set if you know your breaks from 2003. There’s nods to the old school like Nation 12’s Listen To The Drummer (from ’91), plus a couple cheeky mash-ups of their own tracks with tunes of yore, including Screen 2’s garage house retro-hit Hey Mr. DJ (the Plump’s rub of Mr. Velcro Fastener’s Electrical Appliances serves the rhythmic backbone), and Punch Drunk cut with Donna Summer’s I Feel Love to end the set. That might be a little cliché (who doesn’t mash Summer with something?), but at least they used their own track for the gimmick.

Aside from that, we’re mostly in funky territory. If you must know the requisite deviations, here we go: a little chemical-acid stylee in Angelfish, their collaboration with Ali B; electro gets its nod on Chad Jackson’s Energise (a former DMC champion, no less); Evil Nine offers us something more space-based with Cakehole; and Soul Of Man comes strong with the tribal business on The Drum. Still, I couldn’t help but keep expecting Big Groovy Fucker to show up. It’s as though Plump DJs curates a very specific sound of their own (not the first person to realize this).

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
Yeah, I’d say so. If you’re a fan of breaks and somehow missed out on Plump DJs in their prime, FabricLive 08’s a decent starting point, though the Urban Underground mini-series earned them more attention than this one.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Various - fabric 08: Radioactive Man

Fabric: 2002

*cover art brought to you by Fabric’s “Future Technology In Cottage Climate” period*

While it’s rare fabric covers have anything to do with the featured DJ, it can’t be a coincidence a radio dish is on the cover for Radioactive Man’s contribution to the series. Yeah, I know, Keith Tenniswood’s alias has nothing to do with actual radio transmissions, but it’s a nice bit of cover continuity for a series almost devoid of such.

The man behind Man is part of a circle of London producers that every critic worth their salt frequently slobbers over, including respected names like Andrew Weatherall, James Lavelle, and David Holmes. Mr. Tenniswood was the electro-IDM chap, a sort of British option for those who dug Anthony Rother and Aux 88. No surprise, then, his offering of fabric 08 is primarily an electro affair. Wait, hold the cell-phone! Breakbeats, in the main series? What an uncertain time these early fabrics were – daring, bold, unsettled within trends.

Well, not quite. This being 2003, electro clashcoresynth was still a hot sound. Radioactive Man skews closer to the proper realms of robot-funk, but he isn’t resistant to that action either. At least he had the good sense to use his 2 Lone Swordsmen (with Weatherall) guise as the ease-in point for the sound. Dot Allison never sounded so seductively sleazy! Following it with the hopelessly obscure Touch Me from Sweetie though? Aw, now you’re just showing off your crates, mate. No, also fitting in another Weatherall collaboration with Explode as the one-off Basic Unit doesn’t count as digging. Sounds like you’re trying to get in on that International Deejay Gigolo action anyway.

After that, it’s mostly a pure electro workout, save a brief detour into nu-skool breaks care of Koma + Bones’ Powercut. Ah, it’s not far removed from Tenniswood’s take on electro anyway, so it’s all good. Also good are cuts from Imatran Voima (mmm, In/Out’s some fine robot music, ‘tis), Anthony Rother (because of course), charming electro synth-poppers Kit Builders (Bolz Bolz providing the rub on Wake Up), and a cheeky mash-up of Princess Superstar’s hot-as-Hell Fuck Me On The Dancefloor overtop ravey electro Rottenrow from Dirty Hospital.

Radioactive Man also gets a track of his own in twice with ’Ave That, a total head scratcher. It’s… electro speed garage? Oh dear. And then Tim Wright’s remix takes it down 2-step’s road right after. I …guess this is cool in the UK? Or a joke on Tenniswood’s part? The latter wouldn’t surprise me, given he uses a made-up comic book character within a cartoon for this alias.

Was This Worth The Pennies Paid For It?
Absolutely. Tenniswood’s career hasn’t led him into the DJ studio often, but he capably handles himself here with good set flow and a varied selection of tunes without straying far from his chosen sound of expertise (though speed garage, really!?). Plus, how often do we get to hear proper electro in a fabric mix? Not often enough, says I.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Toto - Dune (Original Soundtrack)

Polydor: 1984

Even as a kid, I had a handle on most sci-fi movies of the '80s. Star Wars and Star Trek, ain't no th'ang. Higher concept movies like 2010 and The Terminator? Perfectly fine. Dune? Uh... what's going on? A bunch of talky-talk by faux-European space-cultures, plus a slug in a giant, gassy tube. And hey, Captain Picard's in this too! That's awesome! Then people go to Dune, some more stuff happens, a cool sequence with a giant worm goes down, a battle against guys with weird outfits and Sting happens, and oh man I haven't a clue anymore.

Turns out my confuddlement over Dune wasn't just youthful naivety. When I sat down to watch the flick beginning to end as an adult, it still didn't make much sense, though I could at least appreciate the visual design. Costumes, sights, sets, and more from the movie became fixtures in not only geek culture, but even the rave scene, dialog samplers frequently raiding Dune for quotables. Whatever faults the movie had on a narrative level, you couldn’t deny its enduring style.

Same can be said for Toto’s soundtrack. Bringing on the prog-rock conglomerate to score a sci-fi epic sounds utterly daft, but that’s par for the course for director David Lynch. The group didn’t let him down either, the Main Title theme’s epic, soaring sombre strings one of sci-fi’s most recognizable leitmotifs. Elsewhere, the mysterious Trip To Arrakis perfectly captures the eerie surreal setting of spice-based ‘folding space’ travel, while the gentle Paul Meets Chani’s a lovely romantic theme that’s sadly squandered on a barely existent plot thread. And speaking of squandered music, I can’t be the only one that’s disappointed in the shortened Big Battle piece, an exhilarating and triumphant marching reiteration of the Main Title that classically camps out at the climax with operatic choirs and squalling guitars.

Toto being a rock group though, they had to worm in some standards too. Take My Hand sounds way fucking ‘80s, but not so bad as Dune (Desert Theme), where I picture the likes of Yanni in the studio rather than Toto. I suppose Take My Hand is fine for a credit roll (where even characters that barely had two scenes and served no purpose got their mug shot in over rolling sea waves ...wait, why’s there an ocean at the end of a movie called Dune? I’m confuddled again), but Desert Theme doesn’t fit anywhere in the context of this CD. Yes, including one where the clanking Robot Fight mixes in from the Main Title.

Whatever. We all know the true highlight of Dune doesn’t even involve Toto; rather, it’s the Eno-Lanois-Eno piece Prophecy Theme. Rumour has it Brian Eno had done an unofficial score too, this haunting bit of lush ambience the only remaining evidence of such. One can only imagine how that would have turned out, though I suspect Eno being Eno, we wouldn’t have quite as many classic musical cues as Toto provided. Grace in subtlety, right?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Stylophonic - Beatbox Show

Universal Music: 2006

Maybe I should have trusted the apathy. How could I have known, though? Despite receiving all the critical plaudits for Man Music Technology, folks generally passed by Stylophonic's first album. A few years later, ol' Stefano comes out with his sophomore offering, Beatbox Show, which seemingly everyone, including critics, passed by. Hell, I never knew of it until checking back at Lord Discogs when it came time to write the MMT review, and Stylophonic's sound won me over enough to at least keep tabs on the project. Lack of promotional power likely hurt Beatbox Show's reach, only getting a release through Universal Music in Mr. Fontana's native Italy. I wonder why Prolifica dropped him, or did he only have a one-album deal with them?

Not that it should matter who he signed to, as a great LP typically gets global recognition regardless. While it wouldn’t surprise me folks currently reading this are only now discovering Beatbox Show exists, I sadly suspect this is more than when the album first came out. If it did receive any attention, it mustn’t have been good, practically disappearing from public discourse shortly after along with most of Stefano’s career, save a few synth-pop production credits.

So the warning signs were all there that Beatbox Show would turn out a ‘shitshow’ (oh-hoho!). Maybe I should have dug around the YouTubes first, taking in a couple tracks as a sampler, hear if it was worth digging about for a proper copy. Nah, Sykonee don’t play that way, especially with ample spending cash for music these days. I went to the Amazons instead, paying whatever (< $30) prices I could find, and shipping it on over for a blind-purchase listen. It’s how I got Man Music Technology, and that turned out swimmingly! Mr. Fontana’s too talented a producer for this to turn out horrible, right?

No, wait, this was released in 2006, when everyone with a hint of electro in their sound was obligated to jump onto the post-electroclash sleaze bandwagon. It’s not a good fit for Stylophonic’s upbeat, campy charm. Every time Stefano works in those cliché scratchy, farty synths (Dancefloor, Daisyphonic, Turntable Times), it sounds hopelessly forced; a blatant attempt at co-opting Benassi’s success. Having equally forced ‘trashy’ sing-rap lyrics from ‘Dirty Kylie’ throughout doesn’t help either, her attempts at aping Peaches woefully forgettable. She’s fine when simply singing (Say What?, Losing My Mind), but as this is her only Discogs credit, I suspect she’s a studio hire forced into an unfitting role.

When Stylophonic gets back to the summery club-house vibes (Play That Music, Loving You At The Mad Club) or pays tribute to proper electro of the ‘80s (Say What?, Fresh Air), Beatbox Show retains the hooky appeal of Man Music Technology. Too often though, Stefano loses himself in drab ‘electro-trash rock’ nonsense that instantly dates this album to the mid-‘00s, vanishing within a sea of cheap Satisfaction clones. Not the end for Stylophonic I’d hoped, my friends. Not like this.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sabled Sun - 2146

Cryo Chamber: 2012

I told you Simon Heath's Sabled Sun project looked interesting! In the Bohemian Groove review. Krussledorf? Geez, it was only three months ago that I reviewed it. Since most of Mr. Heath's background is covered there, I won't dwell on his career here, but a quick refresh on the quick-n-dirty regarding Sabled Sun wouldn't hurt.

Story goes ol' Simon was having label difficulties with his primary outlet for dark ambient music, Cold Meat Industries. Also seeking a chance to try a different sound compared to his Atrium Caceri project, he launched Sabled Sun on his start-up Cryo Chamber. Instead of menacing industrial mood music, this alias would focus on sci-fi elements and be an ongoing narrative of sorts. Cool concept, bro, but I'm not sure I buy into it enough to buy five album's worth of Sabled Sun. Heck, where do I even start? The beginning, of course! Nah, screw that, I'm going with the sweet looking cover, which also happens to be the second album, 2146. I'm assuming this and 2145 are the years this supposed sci-fi story is set in.

Judging by track titles like This Is Where The World Ends, Abandoned, Date Expired, and Silo, I’ll also assume 2145 dealt with an apocalypse, a future civilization meeting its demise either through hubris or exploding sun (maybe both!). 2146, then, is about discovering the remnants of that world – maybe by interplanetary explorers, or perhaps a survivor returning from abroad, we’re not told. Again, track titles like Scanning For Life Forms, Graveyard Of Broken Machines, and My Dying Robot help tell this tale, although I suppose the music contained should do the trick too.

This being a dark ambient and drone album though, there’s very little actual music going on – heck, the sound effects throughout tell a stronger narrative. There’s ghostly transmissions, dripping water (or some exotic liquid – this is sci-fi), future-machine humming, heavy harried breathing coupled with crunching footsteps (aptly titled Exo Suit), pitched-down rhythmic chants, and a general sense of claustrophobic desolation.

I think our explorer finds something surviving on this broken world midway in My New Best Friends, as this track contains the closest thing to a real melody before the end, a charming bleepy thing. Mind you, this is coupled with a mild industrial downbeat, and is soon replaced with another dark chant, but for a brief moment, there was light to be found. Then its general melancholy for the remainder – what did he see in that Planetarium, I wonder.

The final track, End Me, is an odd one out, more fitting for a indie-‘tronica shoegaze album (guitars!); or maybe the credits roll for this particular chapter of the Sabled Sun saga. Where does the story go from here? If you want to find out, Heath followed 2146 with three Signals releases. However, they’re each singular fifty-minute long pieces, and I can’t say I’m in a hurry to hear them. I prefer my ambient drone in tasty chunks, thank you.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Fabric On A Budget, Round 2



Back to this gimmick, eh? I figured, “why not”, maybe turn it into a yearly thing, something for readers of this blog to look forward to during the early spring. Odds were good enough that at least a couple more Fabrics or Fabriclives would hit the Amazon bargain bins since my last Fabric On A Budget, perhaps even enough for a week's worth of reviews. I had to cast my net wide though, since surely I’d gotten all the cheapest mixes the year before. Thus, my conditions for 2014:

Canada Amazon: < $5
US Amazon: < $0.50
UK Amazon: = 0.01£ (because even with tons of budget-saving options in the franchise’s native land, the shipping costs totally ruin my penny-pinching concept)

My cheap trawling yielded a whopping eighteen releases. Yes, on top of repeat offerings like Tayo, Audion, and M.A.N.D.Y., eighteen more mixes hit the bargain bins. I know I keep saying this every time I set out upon a ‘DJ Series Retrospective (On The Cheap)' project, but dear Lord, what have I gotten myself into?

As before, the names cropping up are both surprising and predictable, though the years and sounds perhaps not as much. There are even a few early editions in this batch, which is nice to see, though I’m disappointed the earliest one, DJ Hype’s Fabriclive 03, seems to have disappeared into mail-order limbo. On the other hand, that means I only have to review seventeen of these mixes instead! (why oh why couldn’t one of the 2007 ones have been lost...)

I’ve a few releases to go through in my regular alphabetical backlog, and then we’ll dive into Fabric On A Budget, Round 2 (Revenge Of The Boogaloo) in earnest. Bring it on!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Grooverider - Mysteries Of Funk

Columbia: 1998

For most of the '90s, I was incredibly ignorant of drum 'n bass. Though I knew of it by way of occasional crossover tunes like Goldie's Inner City Life and... um... hmm. Okay, so that was about all I knew of. Fortunately, the ‘deebee’ scene couldn’t be contained forever, and for a furious four months at the end of ’98, jungle was about all my pals and I listened to – mostly jump-up jungle, mind you, but it was a start. And yet, I felt something lacking in those two-step rhythms and bomber-style basslines - something clever, something with heart and soul, and something not so gimmicky. Putting my ace electronic music discovery skills to task, I dug around for a name that could fill that gap: asking experts, reading magazine, searching chat rooms, making the Vancouver pilgrimage...

Well, no, that’s bullshit. Grooverider’s Mysteries Of Funk was in fact a Christmas gift from a music warehouse working aunt. She knew I liked that ‘dance music’ stuff, and I’d get a tiny bundle most years. Why she included Grooverider’s debut album that winter of ’98, I’ll never know, but damn if it wasn’t exactly what I needed to hear from d’n’b.

The tale of Mr. Bingham’s only proper LP is one of years upon years of anticipation. Grooverider had been instrumental in nurturing jungle’s formative darkside era, and when it grew stale, became a leading figure in a new style, tech-step. Most of this was accomplished through his DJing, though he’d release the odd single and remix along the way too. It was enough to get folks itching at the chance to hear an album of ‘Rider’s production palette. Luckily, Mr. Bingham had an ace up his sleeve for making Mysteries Of Funk a success; or rather, an Optical in the studio.

Perhaps most surprising about this album is, for a release by a tech-step don’, there’s only a few such tracks. Where’s Jack The Ripper was the main ‘hit’ off here, which doesn’t sound too far off Optical’s typical sound of the time. There’s also Cybernetic Jazz at the start and Starbase 23 at the end, both opting for jazzy grooves and dark ambience before unleashing their feral basslines. Oh yeah, there’s a lot of jazzstep on here too.

Right, jazzstep was the commercial and critical hotness around the time, Goldie leading the way and Roni Size/Reprazent cementing it. Ol’ Groovy also having his hand in there makes sense. With his offerings just as solid as any of the heavy-hitters of the genre, by all means get on that double-bass slaps (On The Double), scat-jazz hijinks (C Funk), muted trumpets (Time & Space), and general nuttiness (Rivers Of Congo) action. Goes great with those fierce rhythms throughout (no, not Fierce; it’s Optical).

Mysterious Of Funk wasn’t a game changer in the d’n’b scene at large, though it did convince me of its potential. It’s also a strong showing from a man that’d earned his stripes. Grooverider’s contribution was good too.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Various - Tunes Of The Year 2001

Muzik Magazine: 2002

Though stuck in the hinterlands of Canada for a while, my job at a music shop kept me a step ahead of my pals on many things electronic music orientated. Such was the perk of receiving promotional material with every order, scouring about for intriguing new artists and albums. What’s that, Nu-Skool Nick, you’ve found an online music hub called Napster where you can download anything you want? That’s nice to hear, but do you know what you want to hear? It’s one thing to snag up older discographies, but what about the new hotness? Plus, you gotta wait for someone to upload that shit anyway, and the only way to do that is after someone buys a physical copy first (occasional leaks notwithstanding). And there was only one place in town to go if you wanted new music as soon as it hit the Rupert streets. Well, okay, a couple places, but I was the only place that’d order underground electronic music. So bow to my superior knowledge of the scene, fellow Rupert people, bwahaha!

Then I left, started reading Muzik Magazine, and discovered I knew jack shit about anything. Oh, sure, we had Mixer over here, and a few forums helped fill out some blanks, but most of what we got was still the heavily promoted names, sounds, and DJ mixes anyone could find in a typical HMV ‘electronica’ section. All the coverage Muzik provided showed there was a layer of electronic music few on my side of the pond bothered with, and in my OCD way of wanting to learn everything, eagerly consumed their gospel.

Such blind faith wasn’t earned without some effort though. While I enjoyed the print, those first couple free CDs weren’t enough to convince me outright Muzik was better than others. Then came the January 2002 issue, which included a CD spotlighting the best tunes of 2001. Before even looking at the names or tracks, I questioned the point of such a collection when the previous CD was already a “Best Of” based on Muzik’s awards; plus, I barely knew any of the names. New Order, of course; Slam, definitely; Björk, absolutely; Timo Maas, I think so. And yet, I hadn’t heard anything essential from these names, much less new-to-my-eyes acts like Chocolate Puma, Bent, The Rhythm Masters, or Bel Amour. Surely Muzik was stretching their notions of what constituted essential.

Hell no, they were totally right. Between prog, house (of all sorts), downtempo, and breaks, their selections opened the lid on what I thought clubbing music could entail. All those drab ‘Crasher and Cream discs didn’t deserve their shelf space if it was holding back Ashley Beedle’s remix of Always or glorious disco-loop house like Agent Sumo’s 24 Hours. If Muzik was in the know about such ace material unheralded in the Americas, then their other recommendations had to be mint as well. Thus began my downloading campaign from them, and all those Mixed Goods discs. Yay.

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