27 March 2005


WARP129So what to make of the new Prefuse73 album? I don't think I've listened to any other album as thoroughly and repeatedly as this one in preparation for a review. The thing is, all of Scott Herren's previous Prefuse releases have hit me straight away. I was immediately impressed by them, so had to figure out why the new one "Surrounded By Silence" wasn't giving me an instant thrill. Was it because my tastes had changed? Were Herron's beats just not doing it for me since my Grime conversion? Were the guest American MC's sounding old fashioned and complacent in comparison to all those hungry Eastend bovver-boyz/girlz who've become such a part of my life in recent times? The first thing to do was listen back to the old Prefuse records and see if I was still feeling them. Yup, "Vocal Studies And Uprock Narratives" still sounds pretty damn cool, as does most of "One Word Extinguisher". Then there's my personal favourite, the "Extinguised Outtakes", which even though purporting to be a collection of out'n'sods left over from the "Extinguisher" sessions, still blows my head off. It's almost like a HipHop equivalent of "The Faust Tapes" - similar to the Krautrock legends' own messthetic approach of editing together a whole bunch of spare studio experiments into a fast-paced kaleidoscopic rush which often hits peaks of unrestrained creativity that leave you giddy in the face of all the possibilities that fly past you.

Having been so thrilled by Herren's previous work, I was actually a bit irritated with myself for not 'getting' the new one straight away - and believe me I really did want to understand it. I think what attracted me before was the sense that Herren was coming at Hip Hop from the outside, twisting it in new disrespectful directions, working with unknown (to me at least) MCs and mutilating their rhymes with an impressive arsenal of Powerbook tricks - basically fucking Hip Hop in the ass and making something new and exciting from all the cliches of the genre. By contrast, "...Silence" features an impressive guest list, not least Ghostface, Masta Killa and GZA from the Wu-Tang collective. Whilst this is presumably a measure of the esteem with which Herren's productions are now regarded in the Hip Hop community, I personally find it a bit disappointing that he's now hanging with these heavyweights - it's like he's become legit. When Ghostface and EL-P spit rhymes over "Hide Ya Face", Herren seems to completely defer to their charismatic centre-stage presence, allowing their vocals to command proceedings without so much as a single glitch-edit. He's showing them far to much bloody respect. If the music was a bit more invigorating I could live with it, but all too often on this album Herren settles for an amorphous wash of sample-mush and beats that are simply too pedestrian to grab my attention. On "Pastel Assassins", Herron employs the not inconsiderable talents of sisters Claudia & Alejandra Deheza, who provide some delightful Stereolabish vocals. You can tell there's a really nice song in there somewhere, but Herren's backing music seems uninspired and unsympathetic (although the other track to feature Claudia, "It's Crowded", works loads better). Where before his arrangements seemed to skip excitedly they now just plod (a bit like Wu-Tang Clan records!). Admittedly, there's always a couple of directionless tunes on a Prefuse album, but usually they're followed by some chest-beating, boombastic thing to get the adrenalin going again. I used to get so much humour from Herren too, but by and large the twinkle has gone from his eyes. It maybe comes out in places, especially the 'interlude' pieces, but even the dark, sophisticated cover design seems to suggest that a new deadly seriousness has descended onto the Herren muse.

Occasional thrills can still be found though. "Just the Thought" keeps things simple and direct with an earthy breakbeat and eerie, affecting electric piano melody giving some much-needed imperative. "Now Your Leaving" is undeniably elevated by the velvet tones of R'n'B vocalist Kazu (should appeal to the Usher fans) and final cut "And I'm Gone", a collaboration with Trish Keenen of label-mates Broadcast, weaves a mesmerising spell although I must admit that the best bit is the second half, which basically sounds more like Broadcast than Prefuse73.

So anyway, having listened intently for maybe a dozen times, I'm still not in a position to say that I think this is a great album. I wish it was. As this is the first Prefuse album of the 'Gutterbreakz era', I'd been really looking forward to having an excuse to give out some respect to Scott Herren, but I'm still not feeling at least 50% of this record. But hey, I'm sure the next album will be fantastic....

24 March 2005


Sleeparchive - Research EPI don't really follow trends in Minimalist Tekno these days (it's so mid-nineties, maaaan), but the "Research EP" by the mysterious Sleeparchive has got my heart all a-flutter for austere 4/4 experimentation again. Apparently this is their third release and the others are already sold-out, so I guess there must be a few others out there who are appreciating this shit too. The title track sets the agenda perfectly - held down by the constant kik-drum pulse as a small palette of electronic handclaps, bass- synth notes on the half-beat, drills (?), skittering compu-rhythm snares and occasional flourishes of reverb and echo weave a spell that's hard to snap out of if you get in too deep.

But what exactly is being researched here? Surely the data has already been compiled in the intervening decade? I guess that it's a personal quest, a self-serving investigation into the heart of the machine. And like Daft Punk, it does what it does extremely well. Everything in it's right place and not a single sound wasted. Lean, efficient and totally absorbed in the moment. I actually find it quite relaxing to listen to, even though it couldn't ever be described as ambient/listening muzik. Sleeparchive make rigid, economical four-beats-to-the bar machine beats sound fresh once again; as natural as a babe sucking on the breast. Back to that Mama heartbeat...

The "Research EP" is still available at Boomkat. Grab it while you can!


Watch 'Robot Rock' Quicktime VideoYou better believe it, baby. James Murphy has every reason to be in awe of Daft Punk. They're thinking light years ahead of him. I must admit I was hardly straining to hear this new album, but I had some birthday gift vouchers to spend at Virgin and, after picking-up the brand new Prefuse 73 release, it was a toss-up between this and the latest Out Hud record. No doubt there's somebody out there thinks I made the wrong choice, but I figured that Daft Punk have blown my mind with their last two studio albums, so "Human After All" must be worth a listen, surely? I hadn't heard any tracks from it or read any reviews, other than the generally underwhelmed responses over at the Dissensus thread (and the lack of responses to that thread speaks volumes in itself).

Still, I had some misgivings of my own. For one, how do you follow "Discovery", ferchrisskes? The 'difficult third album' has to sound crap by comparison. A general feeling that 'the French thing' had run it's course (I was less than impressed by Air's new offering last year, plus I'm all lost inna Dubstep these days). Then there was the still remaining sense of 'sell-out' after all those TV adverts and so forth. But I went for it anyway, and thank the Lord I did, cos it's fuckin' great.

What we have here is ten tracks, recorded between 13th September to 9 November 2004 ( a mere 40 days), clocking-in at the bare-minimum 45 minutes which on the face of it might lead one to come to the conclusion that this is indeed a "horrible 'can't be arsed', contractually obliged rush job". But I prefer the view that Daft Punk have made a deliberately raw Rock'n'Roll record. Or should I say 'Rock' record, because that's what I'm hearing in all those grinding riffs and yes, Daft Punk play lots of guitars on this album. Now, I'm the last person you'd expect to talk about that in positive terms, but as with everything these guys touch, guitars in the hands of Daft Punk sound like the freshest, most exciting instruments on the planet; digitally warped into new realms of extremity. I get the feeling that the guitars were used simply as an interface between man and machines - you get the sensation of guitar performance but without any of the usual sonic references (with the notable exception of the single "Robot Rock" which revels in full-on Sabbath-style rifferama). It makes me laugh when I hear people talking about how clever The Darkness are by exhuming Rock's cliches and being all bloody ironic and post-modernist. Fuck that, The Darkness are shit and hopefully everybody realises that by now. Daft Punk are so post-modern that they come out the other side and just sound totally, undeniably Modern.

This is a raw, primitive record, constructed from the barest of ingredients, but still there's that super-compressed sound - which you either love or hate - that just bursts through the speakers as though there's not enough room in the frequency range to contain it all. I always assumed that Daft Punk's sound was the result of expensive studio gadgetry and a host of expert engineers (as on My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless") but reading through an article in this month's Mixmag I was confronted by a very different reality. Although Messrs. Bangalter Christo declined to be interviewed, several of their friends and associates were more than happy to talk about them. I was particular struck by Armand Van Heldon's comment: "I'd always ask them how they got their sound and the quality of their mix-downs. They told me - and I don't know if they were fucking with me because it's a competitive thing - but they said they mix down through a fuckin' cassette box. " This is confirmed by Dave Guetta who says, "Like a lot of producers I thought 'they must have a fantastic studio'...(but) when I went round there it was so depressing: they had nothing except two 8-track mixers. I couldn't believe it. The monitor speaker was a ghetto blaster". I love the idea that DP's shiny ultra-modern sound is the result of such a lo-tech methodology - the record company must love these guys cos they're getting the hits without any expensive recording costs!

Another interesting point I picked-up on came from a guy called Branco Mazzalai, who was a member of Darlin', the dodgy indie band that Daft Punk once were. Mazzalai mentions that they were influenced by '80s drone-rockers Spacemen 3, and I can see how that influence is still coming through now in the colossal emphasis on repetition that dominates this album. I think that sense of perpetual motion was always there, but with the focus now on more Rockist structures it becomes more apparent. There's a sense of losing one's self in the riff that connects with Spacemen 3's own mind-wiping cyclic intensity (if you think about it really hard), perhaps most overtly suggested on "The Brainwasher".

But it's the gorgeous "Make Love" that really gets me. This is the track mid-way through where they tone-down the rock dynamics, creating the music with just a hissy old analogue beatbox, bass guitar, piano and a distant, poignant vocal refrain. I'd like to think that this track was recorded totally live, as it reminds me of the simple yet effecting work of 70's Electro-Krauts Cluster, who would create lovely pastoral electronica by live interaction. Eno explained it best when talking about his time with them, "it always started out like people would jam today against a sequencer, though we weren't using sequencers then; somebody would become a sort of human sequencer....my problem with people jamming was that they would always change to quickly, they'd never listen to where they were. With Cluster, we would stay in the same place for 25 minutes or so, really getting into the details of the piece, start to feel it as a landscape, not just a moment in the music, but as a place. Also, the fact that you're playing repetitively is really different from just playing a loop; because when you're playing it, you start to get this unity between a muscular rhythm and a perceptual thing that's going on, so you almost forget you're doing it - the playing experience becomes a state you're in". That's essentially what I get from "Make Love" - a sense of total immersion within a meditative state of playing the same thing over and over again.

Then there's the closing number "Emotion" which, with it's nagging four-chord organ melody and crushing/uplifting monotony makes me think of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream". The more I listen to this record the more I start to believe that this is actually DF's finest offering so far. I can't think of any other act who could have made this approach work so successfully. You think you can live without another Daft Punk album? Don't be a damn fool! Get "Human After All" into your life right now !!

20 March 2005



Luke VibertIf I had to single out one individual artist who has consistently brought unadulterated pleasure into my life over the past decade, it would have to be Luke Vibert. He's someone I feel like I've 'grown up' with, and his particular esoteric tastes and seemingly boundless enthusiasm for music from a variety of genres seem to uncannily mirror my own. With the release of his latest EP on Planet Mu, I thought it was time to celebrate Vibert's career by looking back over his past achievements and take a brief look at what the future holds for him. This is in no way intended as a definitive discography - that would make this post even more ridiculously unwieldy than it already is - I'll just be focusing on the major releases that chart his development.

Vibert/Simmonds - Weirs (Rephlex 1993)It helps to have friends in high places, and when you're trying to start a career as an electronic recording artist it helps a great deal when one of your friends happens to be Richard D. James. Having started on his musical path as a drummer in a conventional indie-band, Vibert was one of the many Cornish teenagers seduced by the amazing self-made music that James was handing-out to his mates on c90 cassettes in the late '80s. Pooling his limited resources with friend Jeremy Simmonds, Vibert began to explore the joys of drum machines and sequencers, which eventually led to "Weirs", a collection of techno-primitive workouts released by Rephlex in 1993. Although the production values aren't particularly high and some of the music tends to meander in a directionless state at times, this album does have a lot of character and certainly shows that the duo were determined to strike-out with their own brand of machine-funk. The centerpiece is "Reservoir", twenty minutes of analogue synth tweaking that starts with formless bloops and blips until, after three minutes, a deft twist of the resonance knob transforms the track into a heavenly landscape of cascading arpeggiated melody, with Vibert (or Simmonds?) determined to squeeze every last tonal possibility from the synths. Elsewhere, "Aple" echoes the brutal yet soulful simplicity of early Chicago House whilst "Path T'zdar" employs Aphex-style distorted percussion against eerie, sweeping drones. At this point though, it would've been easy to assume that Vibert would remain a marginal figure, carried along by the benevolence of his more talented friend Mr. James. But Luke was destined to take a very different road.

Wagon Christ - Phat Lab Nightmare (Rising High 1994)Breaking-away from both his partnership with Simmonds and the benefaction of James, Vibert's first venture as a solo artist came in 1994, after he signed to Rising High Records. When I met Luke for the first and only time at the Lakota club in 1995 he explained that this partnership came about after Casper Pound had approached him and asked him if he made any 'ambient stuff', which was all the rage at the time. Luke immediately replied 'yes', even though he didn't, and then had to somehow come up with some music that would fit the brief. The result was "Phat Lab Nightmare" under the new alias Wagon Christ. I've always imagined that the tracks on this album are sequenced in the order they were created. The first two pieces are minimal, atmospheric ghosts, the sort of thing that Luke probably imagined was what Pound wanted to hear. But then next is the title track and Vibert can't help but inject some electro-fied 808 beats and vaguely acidic riffs. Then comes the "Aerhaart" suite, which briefly drops back into beatless reverie, before introducing a 4/4 undertow and eventually leading to a stoned breakbeat groove. With each section the music seems to lead ever closer towards what we would come to expect from a Vibert record. By the final two tracks, the aura of deep contemplation has been completely transformed into a playground of catchy melodic hooks and imaginative rhythms. Having started in ambient deep space, by the final moments of "Dances With Frances", Vibert has surreptitiously set his own agenda.

Wagon Christ - Throbbing Pouch (Rising High 1995)But this was all just a warm-up exercise. What came next was undoubtedly a career-making move in the form of "Throbbing Pouch" which, for me at least, was a complete revelation. Seeming to break almost entirely with the trends within electronica at that time, this album was a sampledelic tour-de-force that seemed to take more inspiration from Hip Hop, Funk and Easy Listening, rather than the established reference points of his contemporaries. Whenever I see things like DJ Shadow's "Endtroducing" or Portishead's "Dummy" in 'classic album' lists I think, "sure, fine, but what about Throbbing Pouch, for fuck's sake?!". There's a particular aura that pervades over this album that still sounds like nothing else. Maybe it's the muffled loops lifted from old cassette bootlegs adding a subtle patina of murkiness (an inadvertent premonition of Boards Of Canada's deliberate methods of 'distressing' sounds through repeated tape duplication?), but there's something almost "Twin Peaks" about the whole thing - an unreal, dreamlike quality that occurs when one has stayed awake for too long. Indeed, Vibert would often work for days on end without sleep during this period, dosing himself up on caffeine and rich food, which must certainly have contributed to the vibe. If you've never heard this album I strongly recommend you track down a copy, but make sure it has the "At Atmos" bonus CD included! Also of particular note is the "Rissalecki" EP that came out around the same time, featuring the Peter Cook-sampling "How You Really Feel", which still sounds remarkably 'out-there'.

Plug - Drum 'N' Bass For Papa (Blue Angel 1996/Nothing 1997)But just as we were all starting to get some idea of what a Luke Vibert record was supposed to sound like, he promptly dropped the downtempo vibes and (temporarily) the Wagon Christ moniker and reinvented himself as Plug, purveyor of fine drum 'n' bass exotica. Along with Aphex Twin, Vibert now seemed fascinated by the fresh possibilities heralded by the increasingly complex breakbeat science that d'n'b had ushered in. But just like Mr. James, Vibert was intent on bending the medium to his own vision, which resulted in three fascinating EPs throughout the remainder of 1995. Along with the then emerging sound of Squarepusher, these releases cement the foundations of what we now call 'breakcore', with Vibert's penchant for adding non-conformist, esoteric samples into the mix providing the blueprint for Shitmat and a host of modern day Amentalists to build upon. The sound reached full maturity the following year on the album "Drum 'n' Bass For Papa", which toned-down the breakbeat convolutions, preferring to focus on the textural lushness that Vibert was mining from is ever-expanding collection of obscure easy-listening records. The thing to remember about Vibert is that he's like a sponge, soaking up music from a wide variety of sources, and it's the way he pieces all these seemingly disparate genres together in unique, unexpected ways that makes his music so original and appealing. Perhaps surprisingly, horrid industrial-goth whingerTrent Resnor was rather taken by the Plug material and released the album in the States on his Nothing label. This is actually the best version to buy on CD (if you can find it!), as it collects all three Plug EPs on a bonus disc.

Luke Vibert - Big Soup (Mo'Wax 1997)1997 saw yet another change of direction, with Vibert leaving Rising High and briefly setting-up shop at Mo'Wax, releasing the album "Big Soup" under his own name. The tracks on this album were personally selected by label boss James Levelle, and in essence this is his vision of what a Vibert album should sound like. Interestingly it comes across more like a modern day Vibert record than anything previously released, featuring far more strange electronic 'retrofuturist' textures and amusing film dialogue samples. Perhaps the track that most clearly points to the future is "M.A.R.S.", which begins with a series of odd bloops, burps and squelches taken straight from the Jean Jacques Perrey method of bizarre Muzique Concrete tape collage. Midway through comes the whistled intro to Dick Hyman's "The Moog And Me", further revealing Vibert's new found fascination with '60s novelty electronica, an interest that would soon become an integral part of his muse.

Wagon Christ - Tally Ho! (Virgin 1998)With 'dance music' still very much big business, 1998 saw Vibert making a brief move up to the big league by signing with Virgin Records, releasing the"Tally Ho!" album, once more under the name Wagon Christ. As might be expected, this collection showcased Vibert at his most accessible and glossy, though it's still filled with many magical moments; awash with lush orchestral textures and luxurious, multi-faceted arrangements. Luke still found space for some cheeky off-the-wall ideas, like "Juicy Luke Vibert" - an orgasmic interlude inspired by a promotional record released by one of the big porno magazines. Also present is "Musical Box", one of the earliest signs of Vibert's now ongoing love of TB-303 Acid-revivalism. I'm not sure why his time with Virgin was so brief (did he leave of his own accord or was he pushed?), but Vibert soon found that he still had plenty of friends in the Independent community more than willing to give him a home...

Luke Vibert/BJ Cole - Stop The Panic (Cooking Vinyl 2000)Vibert saw in the millennium with an unusual collaborative effort with steel guitarist BJ Cole; a meeting of minds across the generations facilitated by esoteric journalist/musician David Toop. The result was "Stop The Panic" on Cooking Vinyl. They seemed to thrive off each other's approach, with Luke laying-down a choice selection of hip-hop, d'n'b and acid grooves over which Cole and his associates applied live arrangements for steel guitar, violin, cello and occasional vocals. It seemed that anyone was invited to the party, as the unmistakably fluid bass lines of Tom Jenkinson make an appearance along with percussion by Vibert's old sparring partner Jeremy Simmonds. When I first heard the intro to "Swing Lite - Alright" I had to chuckle because I recognised the loop taken from Germanic cheesy-Organ/Moog artist Klaus Wunderlich straight away - yet another example of mine and Luke's similar fondness for exploring the nether-regions of kitschtronica.

This particular interest would reach it's zenith the following year, when Vibert was commissioned to delve into the back catalogues of various labels who produced library music in the '60s and '70s, resulting in two volumes of "Nuggets" on Lo Recordings. These releases were instrumental in bringing the incredibly Strange Music of Eddie Warner, Nino Nardini and Roger Roger to a wider audience. Around the same time Vibert signed to Ninja Tune, which is now the home for all Wagon Christ material. First came the wonderful "Musipal", and last year saw the release of "Sorry I Make You Lush", which I reviewed here.

Amen Andrews - Volume 3 (Rephlex 2003)But the ever-prolific Vibert still continues to moonlight under other guises for a variety of labels. 2003 was a particularly busy year for him with "Yoseph"( his first ever release on Warp, which I reviewed here) and a return to Rephlex for an amazing run of five EPs under new alias Amen Andrews. This material saw Luke returning to claim his Amental crown, each track featuring new configurations of the Amen break over which the history of rave/dance culture flickers before your ears in a dazzling array of half-remembered sounds and sensations. Hopefully these will be collected-up on CD eventually, but until then most of the vinyl editions are still available at Boomkat. Last year Luke continued his Rephlex association with the release of the "Kerrier District" album, on which he explored syncopated disco grooves for the first time - yet another complete reinvention and genre absorption , but still marked by that distinctly effervescent vibe that is all his own.

MP3: Luke Vibert - Lover's Acid (clip)Vibert has occasionally released EPs on Planet Mu, the latest of which, "Lover's Acid", has just come out on 12 inch. It's another fine selection of Blissblog-baiting Acid revivalism which, with it's stripped-back arrangements, almost seems to hark back to his earliest work. "Dirty Fucker" sounds like a statement of regional pride, being a classic slice of Cornish Acid in the Universal Indicator tradition. But just when you think you've got the measure of this EP, Luke finishes with "Gwithian", who's loping breaks, soaring flute sample and layers of vinyl static could easily be a Wagon Christ number. For those who aren't into buying vinyl I should point out that all three of Vibert's Mu EPs are being collected onto one CD, which will be released early next month. Presumably they'll soon be available to download at Bleep too. Vibert also has more Amen Andrews material planned for release on Rephlex which, judging by the one track I've been privileged to hear, reveals the distinct influence of dubstep/grime into the melting pot. But as always it's shot-through with all those idiosyncratic inflections that can only be Vibert.

Vibert & Perrey with MinimoogThe other long-awaited project due for release in the near future is Luke's "MoogAcid" collaboration with Jean Jacques Perrey on Lo Recordings. Luke having referenced the grand elder statesman of Moog music on numerous occasions, it seems entirely fitting that they have come together across the generation gap to make some beautiful music together. The release date keeps getting postponed, but judging from the bits I've heard it's gonna be gorgeous. It also comes as no surprise that they've commissioned a remix from Croydon's finest Plasticman, who has brought the Moog vibe bang-up-to-date with a typically hard, bare-knuckled mix that's been rocking my iPod recently. With this release, Vibert's place in that curious pantheon of Moog superstars is assured. He even features, alongside Perrey, in Hans Fjellestad's film documentary "Moog", which is currently touring theatres across the world (the Bristol screening was last Thursday and I was desperate to see it, but it was my birthday and the family had other ideas about how I would be celebrating it. Oh well, at least I got a free slap-up meal out of it, plus the film will be out on DVD soon enough).

It's difficult to measure Vibert's influence on the development of electronica, as there are none of the seismic shocks attributable to artists like Aphex Twin, but from my point of view I think he's been subtly responsible for certain shifts in methodology. For instance, when I started putting 70's kids' TV show dialogue and 303 lines over d'n'b breaks in '96, it was instinctive (see example at the Riddim Composer), but looking back I think it was probably Vibert's influence that made me feel like I had the right to do such things (although I might've actually been thinking a little way ahead of Luke with the Acid thing!). Any dark murmerings about Vibert becoming irrelevant are misplaced, I think. He doesn't operate by shock-tactics or grand statements, but simply continues on his own private mission. When I berate artists like James Murphy for being too retro, it's because I think their music sounds uncomfortably similar to their original influences. Yet no matter how much Vibert exhumes from the past, the end results always sound like nothing else but Vibert, which is the mark of a great artist in my book. The guy is well on the way to becoming a National Treasure and frankly I think we should all be grateful that he continues to eke out a living from his music, rather than getting a proper job. Everyone should let a little bit of the Vibert love into their lives every once in a while...

Luke Vibert @ Discogs.

The Wagon Christ Source

16 March 2005


ZIQ111Another year, another Venetian Snares album. The twelth, I believe. Nothing to get excited about, surely? Wrong. "Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett" is fucking awesome, easily the best thing of his I've ever heard. Maybe even one of the finest long-players in the history of IDM/electronica, though time will be the judge of that. In terms of both technical accomplishment and sheer emotional gravity, it's got to be one of the most profound artistic statements to emerge in recent years. The album's mood and theme were inspired by a trip to Hungary whilst on a European tour. I'm not entirely sure what the theme actually is, but it definitely involves pigeons. What is clear however, is that Aaron Funk was possessed by something and has been unaccountably changed by his experiences.

The thing that's most obviously striking when you first play the album is the remarkable orchestral arrangements, painstakingly constructed from samples but also live electric violin, which Funk learned to play especially for this project. I haven't been this gobsmacked by electronically generated 'classical' music since the late '80s heyday of The Young Gods. Anyone who remembers the first time they heard "La Fille De La Mort" or "Les Enfants" might appreciate the delicious sensations on offer here. Another view would be that this album unlocks the potential within Aphex Twin's "Boy/Girl Song", combining breakcore dynamics with solid, inspired composition, and takes it to the next level.

A lot of Funk's recent output has been so far 'out there' sonically that it was hard to imagine where else he could go. In that sense, this album is almost 'back to basics' , featuring less of the strange digital textures, preferring a clean 'traditional' symphonic palette, occasionally augmented by mentasmish synth riffs and a lot more straightforward Amen breakage than I'd become accustomed to, plus the breaks are far less convoluted than usual - there's an underlying almost danceable groove that's as much to do with the euphoric surge of classic Remarc as anything dreamt up by Squarepusher. The focus is now on dramatic, sweeping emotional intensity, channeled straight to the heart, rather than the head.

"These are love songs and grief songs" writes Funk on the sleeve notes. I believe him. Anyone who thinks that IDM is a spent force needs to hear this album - it will stop you in your tracks.


14 March 2005


Well it had to happen eventually. I managed to drag myself away from the laptop for the evening and head down to the Croft, where DJ Pinch's latest Context evening was playing host to two heavyweights of the Dubstep scene. For one night only, a little bit of Bristol was to be touched by the DMZ magic and I was determined to be there to experience the sound in it's natural state. But first up let's meet the stars...

BAM006Loefah has already built up a strong profile, being a part of the DMZ collective as well as releasing tracks on Tempa, Big Apple and of course Rephlex. This is the man responsible for such crucial joints as "Twis Up" and "Horror Show" although perhaps the best introduction to Loefah's world is his solo four-track EP on Big Apple (see left) which illustrates his style perfectly - a tense, brooding collection of blurry atmospherics and lithe, skunked-out riddims. "Jazz Lick" is the big tune, although it's "Jungle Infiltrator" that really does it for me, beginning with an with eerie, cloying melody and gradually coalescing into a slow-burning dubscape with some tasty 'bleep' notes near the end that transport me back to the glory days of Unique Three's "The Theme".

LoefahIn person Loefah cuts an imposing figure and looks like a bit of a thug, but when Pinch introduced me to him, I was impressed by his thoughtful demeanor and quiet confidence. Somewhat to my amazement, he seemed to know who I was! I wasn't sure if he was gonna give me a tongue-lashing for sharing some of his tunes here, but actually he seemed to think that what I was doing was perfectly okay. I asked him if DMZ had any plans to sell their music as downloads for the overseas market, but he stated quite categorically that there were no plans in that area. He seemed completely uninterested in the potential for global sales. London, Bristol and Manchester were the limits of his aspirations. The fact that "Grime 2" was available worldwide was enough for him, and why not? - he's got time on his side and can afford to take his time building a solid reputation. After chatting for several minutes, I was suddenly struck by the reality of the situation: "Fuck! I'm talking to the guy who made "Horror Show"!" Feeling slightly giddy and starstruck, I mumbled some excuses and wandered off, but not before he insisted I e-mail him so he could keep me posted on future developments.

BAM005Skream is a name I haven't mentioned here before, but to those who know the score he's been a pivotal figure in the development of this sound. In that respect he must be one of the most under-released artists out there. To my knowledge the only tracks that have been available to the public have been a couple of split releases with Benga for Big Apple Records, although he has an EP coming out about now on new imprint Ital, which is getting some people very excited. I haven't heard that one yet, but tracks like "Electro" and "The Bug" reveal a distinctive, clean, synthetic sound that certainly appeals to these ears. I think this is the kid that Martin (Blackdown blog and compiler of "Run The Road") was asking me for some advice on recently. He was looking for suggestions for electronica labels who he could approach to get Skream signed. I hope they have some luck with that, because with the right people behind him I can see Skream becoming the Jimmy Edgar of dubstep! I can sense a similar precocious talent at work here and although Skream is soundtracking his environment in Croydon rather than Detroit, there's definitely parallels with Edgar's burnished, almost Kraftwerkian sound.

SkreamWatching the two on stage I was struck by their very different personalities, which reflected in their respective 'playing styles'. Loefah stood almost inanimate, presiding over the decks like an impassive statue, taking back great lungfuls of skunk whilst producing a seemingly endless supply of acetates from his crate (Pinch tells me he only ever plays off vinyl), mixing them seamlessly in a rocksteady flow. By contrast Skream was all nervous energy, doing mad rewinds at every opportunity, bouncing around and occasionally knocking the needle off the record by accident. He made more mistakes, but then suddenly he'd get focused and start doing some superb fast, choppy cuts between beats. Erratic, undisciplined with occasional flashes of brilliance. Apparently he isn't particularly known for DJing, being more renowned as a producer, so was probably just up for enjoying himself and experimenting with the medium, which was a lot of fun to watch. Compared to Loefah's stocky, shaven-headed image, Skream has a slim, boyish physique, softened by a tidy mop of dark hair. He reminds me of what I used to look like at that age! But they played well against each other, obviously enjoying each other's company.

Skream kicked things off with an 'old skool' set (so I'm told), although I didn't really recognise much of what he played, but it was more upbeat breaky stuff. But then Loefah took over and dropped the first anthem of the night, Digital Mystiks' "Lost City", and it was like entering another world completely. We were then treated to most of the DMZ 'standards', which was amazing for me, as I was able to hear the full frequency range for the first time. I deliberately placed myself near the righthand speaker stack for maximum exposure. Even on the Croft's relatively small rig I was astonished by the level of sub-bass pressure, which vibrated through the floor, up my legs and spinal column, into my throat and rattled my teeth - an incredibly powerful, physical experience. God knows how heavy it must've been at the big DMZ night in Brixton last weekend...probably more than an old git like me could've handled!

Having played-out the hits, our heroes then embarked on a dubplate odyssey into the unknown which got progressively more minimal and austere until, for what must've been at least half an hour, it reached a zen-like plain of pure subsonic meditation, accompanied only by sparse, metallic beats and brief, fluttering wisps of abstract texture, at which point I may have started levitating for a few seconds, but I can't be sure. Occasionally Skream would play a few things from cd-r; intriguing hints of what lies ahead from him, with sharp arpeggiated synth clusters revealing his more crystalline, electro-flavoured direction.

It was an invigorating experience, though I don't think there were more than thirty people in the room. Pinch told me he was going to lose money (again), but was pleased that the small crowd who had turned up were a friendly, appreciative bunch. The audience was almost all twenty-something well-mannered white males, with maybe five or six ladies who appeared to be having a thoroughly good time. Incidently, I had the pleasure of meeting in person some of the other figures in the small West Country dubstep scene: DJ ThinKing, Laurie Appleblim and his Skull Disco partner Shackleton. I had difficulty equating Laurie's friendly, upbeat personality with that slice of dark-matter "Mystical Warrior" that he sent me recently. Still, never judge a book by it's cover!

DMZ003Now's as good a time as any to point out that the latest DMZ release is now in the stores, featuring VIP mixes of Loefah's "Twis Up" and Mala's "Da Wrath" (which appears in it's original form on the Digital Mystiks EP that came out on Big Apple some time ago). The DMZ boys have definitely gone one better with this release - it's beautifully mastered and, for the first time, features a proper printed label. It looks, feels and sounds the fucking business. You need it. All tunes featured in this post are currently in stock at Rooted Records, who really should get themselves sorted with a proper website. In the meantime, Tom and co. will be happy to service all your dubstep needs via e-mail .

08 March 2005


There's been a trickle of cd-r promos arriving at Gutterbreakz HQ recently. I'm always deeply honoured when people e-mail me asking if they can send me stuff - makes me feel like a 'proper' journo type! I love getting sent things in the post, me! I love getting e-mails too! So why do I hate it when the phone rings? I think K-Punk examined that peculiar effect a while back. Anyway, maybe I should get a PO Box sorted out and put it on the frontpage to encourage unsolicited packages! Before I go any further, I'd better point out that the MP3s featured in this post are only clips from the labels' own websites. I don't feel comfortable giving away complete MP3s of tracks that are still on pre-release, and I'm sure you'll appreciate my position on this.

ZIQ092First up this week is a promo of the latest release from Pin Prick Records, based in Hastings, featuring two very different versions of a tune called "Fire To Feed", by the charmingly named The Gays. When I first eagerly slipped the disc into the player, the jagged, scuzzy Garage Rock noise that started blasting out of my speakers was kinda fun, but my heart was sinking cos I figured this was another example of people sending me stuff that, if they'd actually read my blog, would know isn't the sort of thing I write about here. There's plenty of good music out there that I deliberately avoid due to it's unsuitability to the Gutterbreakz vibe, but I hate not writing about something when the creators have gone to the trouble and expense of sending me their work.

Luckily, track 2 is a radical remix that is definitely back in the Gutter orbit. 'Lord Of The Fuckbeat' Waster gives us the "Electro remix 2", which strips away all the original backing music and recontextualises the deranged vocal within a modernist structure of electro beats, bad-tempered synth pulses and, as the track develops, a heavy dose of breakbeat action in the old Hip Hop tradition just the way I like it - phat 'n' dirty! This odd juxtaposition of approaches would appear to be the very essence of what Pin Prick are all about, as stated in the press release manifesto:

Hello, beautiful music.

We love music that is alive, that makes us laugh, that astonishes us, moves us, takes us away.

We don't know anyone who only loves rock or only loves hip hop or only loves trance. People we have met like this have turned out to be knobheads.

We believe in mistakes, strange timing, the odd bum note, surface noise and the ghost in the machine.

There's further evidence of this genre-hopping approach at their well-constructed website, where you can hear clips of various acts that Pin Prick have taken under their wing, with a particular slant towards bringing 'traditional' indie/rock groups together with electronic/remix producers. I also really like the DIY cottage industry mentality - a quick glance through their catalogue reveals that most of Pin Prick's 'releases' to date have been cd-r only, or 12" test pressings limited to ten copies!! They're really only a slight step-up from Whatever Records, the pet cd-r label that me and my mate Aaron bugger about with occasionally. On that basis, the fact that 200 copies of "Fire To Feed" are being released as a limited hand-numbered 7" on 21st March would appear to be a gigantic financial leap for this label. Best of luck, my friends!

ZIQ092Next it's back to the dubstep with a promo of a forthcoming 12 inch from the Skull Disco label. This was sent to me by Laurie, who's "Mystical Warrior" (under the name Appleblim) is the first tune on offer. Laurie is based in Bath, which is very near where I live in Bristol, so I might get a chance to say hello if he comes along to the Croft on Thursday, and tell him in person how impressed I am by his track! It's swamped in atmosphere and features a ferocious, grinding synth riff with wraith-like vocal chants that definitely seems to be pushing towards the darker end of the dubstep spectrum - an area that I'm particularly interested in. The fact that Laurie tells me he's familiar with the Cabaret Voltaire back catalogue speaks volumes about where he sees this sound developing and I'm keen to hear more of his work.

The second track is by Shackleton. It's called "I Am Animal" and, of the two, this is the one that will probably help to shift more units, as it's loaded with the sort of complex, fluttery ethnic percussion that will appeal to the 'oingy boingy' crowd. The subby bassline and soaring string melodies create a moody yet sensual landscape that I've no doubt will be finding it's way into a few DJ sets in the coming weeks. You can hear clips of several other Shackleton tunes, all mining a similar vein, at Skull Disco's website, but I must say it's Laurie's effort that I find the most intriguing. This release is now featured in the dubplates section at Dubplate. Add it to your wishlist now!

ZIQ092Today's final promo is by, er, ME! I had this mad idea to take along a few cd-rs on Thursday and see if I could persuade some people to accept a copy. The cd-r features my two latest tunes, "Liquidate U" and "Campaign Dub". They're pretty much the same as the versions I've shared here, apart from some minor tinkering with the mix and mastered from the 16-bit WAV files. This is the first time I've made 'hard copies' of my Fruity Loops work and they now seem more 'real' somehow. I've made a grand total of five copies and I'm hoping to get them into the hands of Loefah, Skream, Pinch and anyone else who looks interesting. I'm not quite sure what I expect to come out of this little publicity stunt. I know the tracks probably aren't good enough yet, but I've just got this fantasy in my head that maybe someone might play one of my tracks in their set at some point in the near future. The thought of seeing a set list with one of my creations included is about the sum total of my aspirations at the moment.

It's weird when I think that last year I'd pretty much given-up on making my own music , yet the combination of Grime and Fruityloops has really got me excited about making beats again. I haven't sent a demo to anyone for years (I still have my collection of rejection letters - most prized of which is one from Warp Records from 1996) and I can't quite believe I'm being so (relatively) pushy about my shit at the moment. I'm sure it will lead to nothing more than embarrassment and further rejection, but I just can't resist it! Wish me luck...

Oh, and before I go, you might want to check out Scarboi's blog. He's this guy in Winsconsin who's taking a few faltering steps into making Grime riddims and sharing his efforts (sound familiar?!). Some amusing writing too!

04 March 2005


ZIQ096CDHere's something for those who fancy a challenge. Working under the name Phthalocyanine is Dimitri Fergadis from LA, and "No One Said You Didn't" is his second full-length release on Mu. I've been trying to get to grips with this album for two months now and I'm still scratching my head over it. It's either completely brilliant or a load of nonsense, but I can't quite decide. At it's heart lies the pounding velocity of Gabba, but slurred and strangulated through the lens of broken-glitch-fuckery to the point where it becomes an abstract, ever-shifting vortex of queer sensations and unfathomable grooves that ties my brain in knots and makes me fear for my sanity if I play it too much.

But if initially a rather daunting 70 minutes, this is one of those albums that definitely rewards repeated listens, as all kinds of unusual sonic artifacts emerge from the mix the deeper you delve into it. You also begin to notice that there's a certain dark humour at work too. Tracks 6 & 7 are grouped together as "Sitcom At A Funeral", which is an image that fits rather perfectly I think. Get past the cloying waves of synthetic stress on "Rosemary" and there's actually a sort of slapstick quality, complete with burps, screams and unexplained bleeting sheep near the end, that's actually rather funny in a weird way. It's as though Fergadis is trying to tell an amusing anecdote through the medium of sound...you don't get the specifics, just the vague outlines.

The sly humour comes out in other ways too, in the the subtle little touches like the end section of "Sewer System Shrapnel" that I swear must be a cheeky reference to T99's Belgian hardcore classic "Anasthasia". The beauty of this album for electronica fans on a tight budget is that you'll get plenty of user value out of it, just trying make sense of it all. Buy! Download! (if you dare...)

03 March 2005


ZIQ092Some fresh album-length excursions released by Planet Mu recently. Check out Chevron's "Everything's Exactly The Same" , which is the work of Jonathan Valentine, from Blackpool of all places. This is his first long-player and it's rather bloody good. An eclectic mix of ragga-bashment-glitch meets deep melodic/emotive electronics, of an incredibly high standard. I get the impression Valentine could turn his hand to any form of music and make it sound effortlessly great - he's got that sort of talent. From the luscious, almost Jarre-esque string symphonics of "Optic Realisation" and the playful tone clusters of "Cyberia" to the dazzling rhythmic frenzy of "London" and exploring all points in between, Valentine demonstrates his mastery of the electronic arts convincingly. I'm dead jealous, me. Some surprising little touches too, like "Polyphonic Ringtone", which starts with a cheeky ringtone version of "Tour De France" before bounding into an energetic skank and then, just when I'm expecting Suggs to start singing "Return Of The Los Palmas 7" over the top, in comes an understated vocal ( presumably from Valentine himself?) that takes things into a strange pop-ska direction. Sweet!

Even better, closing track "Emails & Viruses" features a sample of Kate Bush over uplifting piano and oldskool breakbeat loops that inevitably puts me in mind of Utah Saints' rave-tastic hit "Something Good" from '92 (which is a good thing!).

Damn, this is a cool record! If you can't find anything you like here then frankly there's no hope left for you. Do yerself a favour - buy it now. Even better - why wait for the post - download it now and get it straight in that iPod before bed time. Go ahead and treat yourself. You deserve it.