10 January 2007


Okay, firstly I should point out that, over the past few months, not only have I not been blogging but I've also been generally 'out of it' in terms of what's going on in the wider sense. I haven't been listening to radio, nor hardly any online dj mixes, haven't been reading the forums much, only checking a handful of blogs, etc. But I have still been buying records. Every month, without fail, I spend at least fifty quid on vinyl, sometimes more when I can afford it. Most of my shopping during that time has been with online emporiums Boomkat and Juno, and my tune selection has been almost entirely based on my personal reaction to the sound-clips available at the sites. I've bought a few dubstep releases - the ones I really like - but mainly I've been buying Techno records, of the variety that, for convenience, I'll call 'Minimal', because that's the term everyone uses now. My interest in this area goes back well over a decade, but I only really picked-up on it again, very tentatively, with Sleeparchive's "Research EP", back in March '05 (which again I bought on the strength of the clips and write-up at Boomkat). Initially fascinated and bemused in almost equal measures, my interest in Minimal has grown from a trickle to a veritable deluge of enthusiasm in recent times. As far as I was concerned, this renaisance was all just going on inside my own little head, so you can imagine my amazement when I saw the 'Minimal Techno Blowing Up' thread at Dissensus last September.

Then, last month, I returned here with a few blog posts, making coy references to this new area of interest, just in time it seems for a sudden burst of comment and reportage from other quarters. My man Kek independently made the Minimal connection over Peverelist's "Erstwhile/Grind", then Blackdown was moved to make a few pointed observations on the matter after hearing "the Grind" at FWD>>, then Philip Sherburne waded-in with some enlightening background on the Shackleton/Villalobos connection, which in turn has inspired another Dissensus thread arguing the merits of a possible stylistic blend betwixt dubstep and minimal (and thanks to Mr 'Sodiumnightlife' for mentioning my "Post Natal Depression Mix" in there - and yes, my mix doesn't blend the two style particularly, but it does at least attempt to get them talking in the same room!).

So clearly something is afoot. Why Minimal? Why now? In the wider sense, I have no idea, all I can express is what's been happening in my head and on my turntables. I hadn't really been making my new interest known around Bristol, because most people I know around here are from more of a Jungle/D'n'B/Breaks/Dancehall background and I didn't think they'd be interested - funny to think then, that it's Bristol artists and djs like Peverelist, Pinch and Appleblim who seem to be focal points for this new minimal-crossover direction. I haven't been out and about as much as before, so I'm learning about this second hand - I've had no discussions with Pinch* or Appleblim on this subject at all. I don't know what these new minimal-inspired tunes are in Pinch's sets, I haven't seen him play out for several months. I haven't even heard Villalibos' "Blood On My Hands" Remix!

But I've not really been thinking about a 'crossover' at all, anyway. The bpms are a bit different, but it's still fairly easy to match tempos between Minimal and Dubstep (more so than d'n'b, which is so much faster) and all I ever tried to do was find suitable tunes to segue between styles - Mala's "Left Leg Out" being the obvious example in my mix. I wanted to find a way to represent both areas in a mix by finding natural transition points. That's as far as my thinking on the subject went. But if there is to be some sort of genuine crossover, I'm all ears!! But it's too early, and there's simply not enough data to hand for me to surmise any further on the hybrid option. So the rest of this post is purely concerned with my thoughts on Minimal Techno in itself.

Techno is in my blood. Sure, I like Jungle and all sorts of other avenues of dance culture. But my first love is the 4/4 pulse of early house and techno. I used to dj a bit in the early-mid '90s. My set-lists were made-up almost entirely of leftfield, minimal and ambient Techno. But somewhere after about '95 I just lost interest in that area (besides, so much so-called 'techno' I've heard since didn't seem to have much in common with what I understood to be techno). My life moved into a different phase, I stopped djing, etc. It was Grime and Dubstep that drew me back to the decks, and back to 12" vinyl again, and just generally re-energised me and brought me back to the underground. But inevitably I've been feeling the pull of my roots, drawing me back to the Prime Directive. Getting back into djing with these new minimalist tracks has been a revelation. The thing about mixing dubstep is that the tracks tend to obey certain structural laws. I don't mean just the beat patterns, but the way the tracks are organised in blocks, much like the software applications on which they're created, I suppose. Once you've got the feel for those structures, everything tends to fall into place and you start to instinctively know where to come in, where to drop out, etc. It becomes quite a formal technique. With minimal it's so much more open and creative for the dj. Most tracks extend past the six minute mark, and tend to follow a more linear path (ie, much more monotonous!) , giving the dj far more options for longer transitions and imaginative use of equalisation, drop-outs, extra fx, etc. Having said that, I couldn't believe how difficult is was for me to adjust back to mixing with the 4/4 kicks again. You'd assume it was the easiest thing in the world, but actually keeping two minimal tracks locked for any length of time is quite tricky. You have to be so precise, so delicate, because if things start to drift, even slightly, it's very noticeable (although occasionally you might get a strangely pleasant 'phasing' of beats, and unpredictable polyrhythms start to develop out of nowhere - what Brian Eno might describe as a bit of 'Africa' drifting into the mix). Bizarrely, after a few weeks of practice, having regained my 4/4 'legs', I found that I'd completely lost that instinctive flow for dubstep and had to try and get it back again. Then the new baby came along and I had to temporarily abandon my research. I'm only just starting to pick-up from where I left off.

In terms of the actual records, some of the new artists who've really grabbed my attention apart from Sleeparchive are Andy Stott and Claro Intelecto, who are both putting out some fantastic sub-bass heavy minimal shit on the Modern Love label presently. Incidentally, both these artists have also shown a different side of their characters in the long-play format, having made some beautifully emotive intelligent/melodic techno that subtlety updates the classic Reload/B12/Black Dog/FUSE tradition with the albums "Merciless" and "Neurofibro" respectively. Other artists I've been checking include Murmer, Marcel Dettman and Add Noise. I'll try and write in more detail with some reviews when I get a chance.

'Dubby-Minimal' is another area of keen interest, and I've been busily filling the gaps in my Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound/Chain Reaction/Burial Mix collection, because it's a sound I absolutely adore and really want to use in my mixes from now on. Those tracks simply do not date. Related artists like Monolake, Scion and Deep Chord are also very much on the agenda. Again, that's the subject for a post of it's own.

The there's the whole Sahko scene coming out of Finland, based around the work of Mika Vanio in his Ø and Philus guises. I first discovered Vanio when I saw him in his group Pan(a) Sonic supporting Suicide at the Garage in London back in March 1998. I've been a fan of Pan Sonic ever since, but didn't know much about Vanio's earlier solo work until all the vinyl re-issues started cropping-up last year. It's incredible that those basic tracks he was cranking out in his little analogue studio back in 1993 have suddenly taken on so much fresh relevance, possibly even eclipsing that perennial god of minimalism, Richie Hawtin**, last year. Again, this is the subject for a separate post sometime. Incidently, 1993 was also the year that Basic Channel and (I think) Hawtin's Plastikman project began, so I guess we can refer to it as Minimal Techno's 'Year Zero'***.

Okay, I'm done for now...

* But then of course I remembered that Pinch had already proclaimed his interest in "minimal electronica and dubbed out techno" when I interviewed him nearly two years ago, so the creeping influence of minimal into his sets now is probably a perfectly natural step on from that.

** By chance (?) it seems that Hawtin's early Plastikman/Plus 8 catalogue is also getting the vinyl re-issue treatment recently. Market forces in full effect...

*** Quite possibly nonsense, and besides, why does minimal have to have a 'Year Zero' anyway? But still it's interesting that all those pivitol, influencial minimalist all seemed to crawl out of the woodwork around 1993. But of course there were isolated minimal experiments long before that. Indeed, the re-issue last year of Monoton's amazing "Blau" album reveals a techno-primitive dubwise precurser to Basic Channel going back to 1980!