Posts Tagged ‘techno’
If you’re like me you like to listen to music while you work but, if you’re like most of humanity, you know it’s hard to do so when you’re distracted by lyrics. However, those of you who have experienced the wonders of electronic music you know that it’s some of the best music to read and write to. While there are lyrics from time to time, it’s usually a repetitive phrase for rhythmic purposes or subtle enough that it fades into the background.
In this occasional series, I will recommend excellent mixes available for free through Mixcloud and then a proper album for further listening.
Art Department: Boiler Room Mexico
Art Department has quickly become my favorite DJ duo. Together, Canadian techno/house legend Kenny Glasgow and No.19 label owner Jonny White spin earthy house tunes, mellow and melodic. When they drop vocal tracks, it’s hard not to recognize a trip hop influence. A perfect example of this can be found at the 24 minute mark on this mix. “Say You Won’t Ever (Larry Heard club mix)” by Wallflower can only be described as heartbreakingly good. Bottom line, if this mix doesn’t turn you into a house fan, I’d say it’s a lost cause.
For further listening: If you do wind up enjoying this Art Department mix, I highly recommend the latest compilation from their label Crosstown Rebels, “10 Years of Crosstown Rebels.” The 3-disc collection features tracks from their various artists, including Maceo Plex, Jamie Jones, Seth Troxler, Soul Clap, and, of course, Art Department. The collection as a whole leans towards minimal, tech, and electro house, with a good number of vocal tracks — some moody and smoky, as opposed to soulful and disco-inspired.
Until 2010, 16 years after its founding, Rinse FM was a pirate radio station, broadcasting illegally from many east London rooftops. Although now outfitted with a proper license, operating in the open, Rinse holds true to its underground roots and continues to champion dubstep, UK funky, grime, and, in general, “youth-orientated music culture.”
That last part about youth culture is an integral component to Rinse’s philosophy. Rinse began when owner Geeneus and his DJ friends were kicked out of the stations where they had shows and were told they were too young when they went looking for new gigs. Frustrated with the politics of the scene, Geeneus and his friends decided to go out on their own; and so Rinse began.
During the early years, Geeneus didn’t have much of a plan beyond keeping ahead of what was new and hiring talented DJs but in 2009 he started a compilation series of mixes from Rinse’s all-star roster, a group categorized as “family” on the website. With the series now at two dozen albums, Rinse’s mix sessions are essential to any collection attempting to claim underground credibility.
Here are just a few suggestions to get you started.
Rinse 20 :: Uncle Dugs
According to Rinse FM’s website, Uncle Dugs is their only dedicated to old skool DJ. If his mix for the label is any indication, I’d be hard pressed to disagree. Starting with “We Are I.E.,” a breakbeat track from 1991, Uncle Dugs sets the stage for a throwback album. “I’ve called it my ‘Story of Jungle mix’,” says Dugs. “It’s a story of jungle music until it changed to drum and bass.”
As one would guess from that statement, there is a depth and breadth to the mix. Tracks range from classic drum and bass–featuring artists such as Alex Reese, Shy FX, and Andy C–to the dub of X-Project and Conquering Lion. Upbeat throughout, although not afraid of the dark and grimy, Dubs’s mix is an excellent collection of what drum and bass has to offer. It’s a gift to those who grew up on 90s jungle and mandatory for those who missed it.
Rinse: 11 :: Oneman
Oneman joined Rinse in 2007, coming up through garage and dubstep. His mix, ranging from dubstep, to vocal house, to grime, to the quirky tracks of Modeselektor and Crystal Fighters, shows off his versatility. In an interview with Spin he explains, “a set’s all about going up and down for me, like a rollercoaster. I never want to be in once place the whole time. I get really bored easily.”
Oneman, with his eclectic tastes and knack for blending seemingly unmatchable tracks, creates an album full of surprises; you never know what’s coming next.
Rinse: 22 :: Kode 9
Until recently, Rinse mixes were limited to their station DJs. Now, they’ve moved beyond their initial vision to include outsiders whose work they admire. This year Kode 9 made the list, for good reason. His mix is dark but energetic: a mix of grime, footwork, and heady downtempo with the longest track clocking in at four minutes, with most at or under two.
Beyond his DJing skills, Kode9 is an interesting character. He teaches music culture at the University of East London, and published a book with MIT Press in 2009 called Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear, an exploration of vibrational force, from military research to crowd control, to corporate sonic branding, and sonic encounters of sound art and music culture.
His mix is just as smart.
Rinse: 8 :: Alexander Nut
Alexander’s mix encompasses a range of highly produced tracks, from the super-dancey electro house of D-Boogie, to the soul of Canadian producer Marco Polo, to the tweaky Jamaican beats of Roots Manuva, to the grimy underground hip hop of Eric Lau and 2-Tall. These tracks distinguish Alexander’s mix from many others in the Rinse series. He’s considered the station’s only experimental hip hop DJ and is quoted as saying that he’s “never belonged to one particular group” and that he is “a child of the universe.” This early mix in the series is perfect for those who want a brighter album with that trusted Rinse quality. Lots of vocals on this one.
In the fall of 2011, British electronic duo Plaid released Scintilli, their first studio album since 2003. Since the early 90s, band members Andy Turner and Ed Handley have been at the forefront of experimental techno, a genre known as “Intelligent Dance Music”.
Along with Aphex Twin, Autechre, Plastikman, and Squarepusher, the group ushered in a heyday for abstract beats and knob tweaking. During the late 90s, while the rave scene was still in decent shape, my friends and I would go to various underground clubs. Unless it was a party with multiple rooms, dance tracks dominated the sound system.
I was never big into dancing but I did get pretty good: I ran in place wearing big pants, I could make an invisible ball with my hands, and my glow stick technique was better than most. But techno and house were always second best to jungle and IDM. Rightly or wrongly, I felt the latter were more sophisticated. Jungle was intricate; it had rolling basslines and complex breaks. IDM got in your head and messed with it. For me, it was music without reference, something completely new.
Out of the bands that made up this marginalized group of IDMers, Plaid was the most melodic. Aphex Twin was dark and grating, close to industrial. The tracks could easily get under your skin. Autechre, too, was tough. They weren’t so much rhythmic as they were a methodical outburst of noise. I admired Plastikman’s minimalism, and Squarepusher’s jazz background gave him esteem, but they weren’t as listenable to as Plaid. On their second album, Not For Threes, the duo included two vocal tracks; one with international sensation Bjork and the other with a largely-unknown singer, Nicolette. A move that endeared them to electronica fans.
Plaid’s latest, is, for the most part, soothing. The tracks are short, with the longest clocking in at four and a half minutes, and can be broken down into three types: ephemeral, grimy, and playful. The opener, ‘Missing,’ with its harpsichord melody and whimsical vocals is an example of the first; ‘Eye Robot,’ with its industrial beats and gritty overlay falls under the second; and ‘Thank,’ an upbeat, bouncy tune that makes you see sunshine easily falls under the last.
A reviewer for the much-respected electronic music site Resident Advisor, criticized the album for its lack of adventurism. As a longtime fan of the band, it’s hard to argue. There’s nothing surprising about Scintilli, it’s Plaid through and through. But for someone who was praying against a gimmick, who was hoping they wouldn’t jump on some bandwagon for a cheap sale, the familiar is comforting. It’s like running into an old friend from college and realizing that, while you’ve both matured, you’re the same people at the core. Plaid is like an old friend you can come back to years later and pick up right where you left off; and, for those coming to them for the first time, there’s a whole catalog just like Scintilli ready for the listening.
Plaid’s official website
For me, Underworld is nostalgia. They were my first memorable introduction to techno. It was 1997, my freshman year of college, and I was in the embrace of 80s new wave. That year I’d fallen in with a bunch of ravers (or party kids as they liked to be called) who spent their weekends in clubs and warehouses. It was through them that I learned a lot had happened since Depeche Mode. Second Toughest to the Infants, Underworld’s second album after their switch from electropop, had come out the year before and “Born Slippy”, their song on the Trainspotting soundtrack, had brought them some modest fame.
Up until then, I’d only been familiar with bad Top 40 house music that played in the Long Island clubs where big hair and and tube tops reigned—not that I ever went to those places. Underworld opened my eyes to a world that went beyond simple drum loops and cheesy pop vocals. Their beats were intricately layered and their vocals textually sophisticated.
By the time I’d come to them, they’d moved on from their synthpop days. Sometime around 1991 Rick Smith, half of the founding group, wanted a new sound. He wound up grabbing the talented 17-year-old DJ Darren Emerson from the London club scene. In 1994, together with front man Karl Hyde, they released dubnobasswithmyheadman, an album that made a sharp break with their earlier sound and heralded in what became their signature style—a mix of trancey, dark epics and driving, dancey anthems.
The interchange of upbeat and mellow could easily have felt forced, schizophrenic, disjointed but Underworld expertly weaves the two throughout their numerous albums, easing tensions and breaking lulls. In an interview, Hyde says that the people who have only seen them in the clubs miss a “very important other side to us that goes very deep, just music for chilling out to or music for driving to late at night.” The pairing of their albums with long drives is often noted in reviews and I’d like to add that they’re perfect for dinner parties as well.
In addition to dropping their clean, punctuated synthpop sound in favor of lengthy hypnotic dub tracks with rolling bass lines and jazzy high hats, Hyde changed his approach to the vocals as well. He went from a clear, coherent stories to gritty abstractions. Perhaps the most interesting part about his new style was its multifunctionality, at times taking on a percussive quality, like in “King of Snake” on Beacoup Fish, and at other times adding to the harmony.
Underworld’s airy synths, tribal crescendos, and quasi-philosophical lyrics oftentimes gives the albums a spiritual feel, making Hyde something of an electronic high priest. You’d think this would be anathema to a bunch of drug-addled nocturnals but something about the rave scene, at least when I was involved, thrived on the notion of transcendence.
Over the course of six studio albums, a live release, and a compilation as a proper techno act, Underworld has remained consistent, improving and maturing as the years go on but never deviating from their defining traits. Each album blends seamlessly into the other whether listened to in order or at random. If you hadn’t heard the news that Darren Emerson left in 2000 to pursue a solo career, you probably wouldn’t have heard much of a difference between Beacoup Fish and A Hundred Days Off. The same could be said for Barking, Underworld’s most recent album put out in 2010, where each track features an outside collaborator. I don’t seem to be alone; in their review of the album, Resident Advisor said “the songs here are a harmonious marriage of the classic, propulsive Underworld sound and the kind of techniques and textures that postdate most of their career. It’s interesting that an album with so much outside input highlights the band’s populist, maximalist side.”
Instead of boredom or disappointment, this repetition of sound comes with relief. While most bands after losing a bandmate to a solo career, having kids, and moving from small clubs to selling out stadium shows and headlining major festivals might let life’s changes get the better of them, these guys have remained like an old, reliable friend with whom you never fall out of sync—and are grateful to them for it.
Underworld’s Official Site