The soon-to-be-legendary Blogariddims podcast begins it's second season, and it has fallen upon me to kick things off with my second contribution to the series, in the week that this blog enters it's fifth year of existence. My first Blogariddim was a patchwork of oldskool influences, so this time I wanted to focus on contemporary sounds - especially as I haven't recorded any substantial mixes of new material this year! The only styles of music in the current climate of which I can claim to have any working knowledge are dubstep and techno, and my initial idea was to attempt a fluid, wide-ranging mix that weaved between the two, joining the dots as I saw them, expanding and refining some of the ideas from my 'Post-Natal Oppression' mix from last year, as well as being a sort of continuation from Paul Autonomic's Blogariddim 24. But with time against me I went for the easier option and simply split the podcast in two, with each half focusing on a very specific area of interest. Both parts were recorded separately last month, then pasted together afterwards. All the mixing was performed live with my trusty Stanton turntables, Numark DJ mixer and Axis CD-decks (see pic below), recorded direct to hard disc with no post-production other than the looped fade-outs at the end of each section, plus adding the standard Blogariddims 'jingle' and a brief vocal ident at the start.
BLOGARIDDIMS 25 (58:07, 79.8 MB)
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PART 1: ECHOSPACE ODYSSEY
Deepchord - Vantage Isle (Convextion Mix) (Echospace [Detroit])
Deepchord presents Echospace - Sunset (Modern Love)
Substance & Vainqueur - Reverberation (Scion Versions)
Quantec - Longwinded Edit (Echocord)
Marko Furstenberg - Falling Leaves (A.R.T.less)
Blunt - City Rain (cv313's Reduction) (Dpress)
cv313 - Dimensional (Echospace [Detroit])
Deepchord - Untitled (Hierophant)
Claude Vonstroke - Who's Afraid Of Detroit? (Deepchord Remix) (Echospace [Detroit])
Deepchord presents Echospace - Empyrean (Modern Love)
There can be little doubt that, from an innovatory angle, Electronic Dance Music is currently stuck in one of it's occasional fallow periods, with no radically new options on the agenda. Although 'stasis' might be too strong a term, then certainly it is a time of Consolidation: to paraphrase Simon Reynolds, the delicate balance between Rootical and Futuroid is firmly tipped towards the former. Bar the odd maverick sound-chemist (For techno see Villalobos, for dubstep check Shackleton) dance music is slowly eating itself, gorging on it's past glories. So what're you gonna do? Sit around moaning because you're not getting your regular 'Shock of the New' fix? Start listening to barely-listenable transmissions from the experimental fringes or, god forbid, the Arctic Monkeys instead? Me, I'm perfectly happy with the situation right now. It's given me a bit of breathing space to really delve back into much-loved sound worlds that I'd left behind years ago.
In the latter half of 2006, whilst taking an extended break from blogging, I crawled back under my rock and re-ignited a love affair with an old flame called Techno music, and a big part of that involved the dubbed-out sonorities of the Hardwax axis - the Berlin-based affiliation of artists and labels revolving around Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound/Maurizio, etc. It could easily be argued that this particular branch reached some sort of zenith back in the late '90s. The scene's central figures, Moritz Von Oswold and Mark Ernestus, are now focusing their awesome production techniques on a purist form of roots reggae, and the momentum of Chain Reaction, the label created to showcase new artists in the field, evaporated several years earlier. But then, as 2006 began to draw to a close, I noticed some new material appearing from Chain Reaction veterans Substance & Vainqueur, on their new Scion Versions imprint, that seemed to be picking-up from exactly where I'd left them in the late '90s. And then I noticed some new activity from Deepchord, Rod Modell's Detroit-based dub-techno project...
In truth, I was familiar with Deepchord in name only. Modell's earlier phase of serious activity occurred in the first half of this decade, at a time when I had almost completely drifted away from all branches of Techno. Researching his earlier work is a difficult task as practically all of it is out of print and very difficult to find, at any price - it's situations like this where the self-help economy of file sharing networks really comes into it's own! But having finally connected with Deepchord, it was love at first sight (or should I say sound) for me and, judging by the recent deluge of new material, it would seem that I'm not the only one who's ready to embrace Modell's gloriously single-minded, dub-fixated vision.
The purpose of 'Echospace Odyssey' is to explore the new work of Modell, Substance & Vainqueur and a couple of other similar artists who've come to my attention. This particular style of music has been gradually appearing in other people's mixes in recent months, though usually only in small doses, either as atmospheric opening sequence or brief gear-changing interlude. But I wanted to get into a really deep, sustained groove, to feel the music as a slowly evolving landscape of undiluted soft-focus dubcentricity (I could've stretched it out for the entire hour, but I had other loyalties to honour). I make no claim that there's anything particularly new or original here - whatever subtle increments of progression occur are all built on a tried and tested blueprint that was developed over a decade ago. And it's probably fair to say that it's a bit lacking in rhythmic invention, still clinging to the rigid pulse of kick drum on fours with the hi-hat offbeat (although the Detroit guys manage to inject a little more swing into their loops than the Europeans) but it's almost as if the beats, and most of the other arrangements, are simply frameworks on which to hang the studio fx processing; they're mechanisms for fabricating synthetic ghosts. This is the sound of pure dub process - the reverb is the star of the show, the echo is the lead instrument. Texture takes precedence over structure. It might not be new, but its interesting that myself and others are finding this sound fresh again so soon. The old 'Twenty Year Rule' of cyclic revivalism has been halved. Dub Techno should be as deeply unfashionable as Big Beat, yet it continues to quietly draw-in new converts.
Surely the most prestigeous record label to emerge this year is Echospace [detroit], a joint venture between Rod Modell and Steve 'Soultek' Hitchell. Each release comes in strictly limited vinyl format only, sheathed in clear plastic sleeves, with additional collector-fetish touches like mixed-colour vinyl and 7" bonus discs. This combined with the inflated retail prices demands a certain level of commitment from the fans. You gotta pay the price, and pay it now, if you want ownership of an original edition. And if the scarcity of older Deepchord releases is any indication, it's unlikely you'll get another chance later on. My mix opens with a track from the first release - the 'Vantage Isle' EP. Convextion is Gerard Hanson, a shadowy figure in the US techno scene, who's devastatingly distressed reshape of Deepchord's original sets a high-watermark in crushed, crackling, static-charged cinematics. Elsewhere you'll hear passages from the next two releases: 'Dimensional Space' by Modell is his guise as cv313, and also his cryptic drifting remix of Claude Vonstroke's "Who's Afraid Of Detroit?". It's most unfortunate that the mix doesn't feature anything from the latest release, a stunning double remix EP of Model 500's "Starlight". I knew it was imminent, but with the deadline for submission rapidly approaching I had to press on without it. But at least it arrived in time for the photo shoot (see above, right). It's doubly annoying for me, as "Starlight" originally appeared on Deep Space (R&S, 1995), the Model 500 album from which "Milky Way" on my first Blogariddim was lifted, and it would've been nice to have at least one small thread of commonality between the two podcasts. Incidentally, "Starlight" (along with most of the other tracks on Deep Space) was originally recorded in Berlin, with Moritz Von Oswold engineering - yet another inspired example of the ongoing Detroit/Berlin dialogue that has periodically nourished both cities over the years.
Adding to this sudden flurry of activity, Modell and Hitchell have also struck a deal with the Modern Love imprint (an offshoot of the Boomkat emporium) resulting in "The Coldest Season", a series of four EPs showcasing work recorded in the Winter months of 2005-2007 (see image, left). The quality is extremely high throughout, and really highlights the inspired coupling of their respective talents, with Hitchell adding an extra dimension of searing texturology, like shafts of light arcing across Modell's resolutely myopic shadow-realm, and a subtle structural undercurrent, that allows the tracks to develop a bit more. Two examples are presented in my mix, the first being "Sunset" from Part 3, which displays Echospace at their most melodically seductive - the rich, almost sickly-sweet chord progression bringing to mind the melt-in-the-mouth vistas of Global Communication. At the end comes "Empyrean", from Part.2, which to my ears is possibly the finest single piece in the Echospace catalogue to date, propelled by a ridiculously weighty yet highly melodic bassline that skips playfully across the rhythmic grain, as though reggae legend Aston 'Family Man' Barrett had dropped by the studio to lay down one of his trademark tunefully effervescent bass runs. Factor in the impressionistic lashings of Hammond-like chord timbre and the results are simply stunning. The series is available in MP3 dowload form at the Boomkat netshop and has also been collected on CD, so no excuses people - get buying!
The mix is bolstered by a couple of other stray Echospace releases - an untitled Deepchord 10" on white vinyl from Heirophant Records, plus the cv313 reshape of Blunt's "City Rain" - along with a small selection from related European artists: Substance and Vainqueur continue to set a high level of excellence with their second Scion release, "Reverberation/Reverberate", carrying the torch for the original Berlin sound. Then there's "Longwinded edit" (love the self-depreciating title!) from the b-side of Quantec's 'Subsurface Structure' EP. I know nothing about this artist, and have yet to explore the back-catalogue of the Danish label Echocord, though as it's name suggests, it has been quietly releasing dub-infused techno (including a couple of Rod Modell EPs) for a number of years. Lastly there's a track from Marko Furstenburg's impressive 'Surphased EP' that clearly displays the Basic Channel influence, though moving into slightly harder, darker territory. No doubt there are others mining similar seams of inspiration - indeed I've recently started exploring some of the material coming out on labels like Styrax Leaves and Statik, but I'll save those for another mix later in the year...
PART 2: TOWARDS INFINITY
Wedge - Overfiend (Gatekeeper Remix) (Reduction)
Gatekeeper - Tense Past (Punch Drunk)
? - ? (cd-r)
Pinch - Deserted Island (cd-r)
Jakes - Mars Dub (cd-r)
Martin Buttrich - Well Done (Headhunter Remix) (Four:Twenty)
Skepta - Stage Show Rhythm (Adamantium)
Peverelist - Infinity Is Now (cd-r)
Further fueling the idea that dance music is in a period of consolidation, two of the most promising paths for dubstep's escape from the quagmire of wobbly halfstep orthodoxy both involve gene-splicing with older forms: 2 step garage and techno. In Bristol, the emphasis is currently (though by no means exclusively) on the latter, with producers like Appleblim, Peverelist and Headhunter making some of the biggest waves internationally. For the second half of my mix, I've tried to showcase new music from the Bristolian vanguard that justifies the hype, along with a couple of older rarities, so it's cd-r and test pressing biznizz all the way. But even so it didn't work out quite how I'd planned, as some artists simply aren't quite ready to allow their latest work to be used.
Part 2 begins with a track from the first release from Reduction Records, a new Bristol imprint run by Diccon Jeffries (aka DJ Thinking), featuring Sub FM and H.E.N.C.H-affiliate Wedge's first outing on wax with "Overfiend", a track which I've had on cd-r for ages - in fact I played it at Dubloaded in March last year! I've selected the flip-side, a stunningly reduced remix from Gatekeeper that seethes with nocturnal urban menace. This one should be in the shops very soon. Staying with the Gatekeeper vibe, the mix segues into his "Tense Past", which has just been released on Peverelist's Punch Drunk imprint, along with "Let Go". This one completely blew me away with it's dazzling echo-drenched chord patterns, hyperactive electro-step beats and immaculately crafted arrangements. Even though I take the piss out of his hairstyle at every opportunity, I really think that Gatekeeper is one of the most exciting new producers to emerge from the local scene in recent times, and hopefully this release will open a lot of doors for him.
From there, the mix coagulates into 'the mystery track', a collaboration between two local producers that's so secretive that even I'm not 100% certain who they both are (99.9% sure, though!). This untitled track, clocking in at nearly nine minutes, blew my mind to hell and back when I first heard it (see previous over-excited blog post) and sets a new standard for extended minimal atmospherics within the framework of dubstep. This is a real scorching hot exclusive - remember where you heard it first, kids...
I would've loved to slip-in a sneak preview from Pinch's long-anticipated debut album, but now is not the time. Instead, I thought I'd go back to the vaults to exhume one of his earlier unreleased pieces - in fact "Deserted Island" was the first dubstep-influenced track he ever wrote. Understandably it's a little tentative, perhaps even slightly under-produced, yet uncannily it seems to predict the shivery austere influence of minimal techno with its almost-but-not quite 4/4 pulse, sparse descending bassline and eerie background ambiance. Its unlikely that this track will ever be released, so I'm very pleased to showcase it here. Similarly, Jakes' "Mars Dub" is another forgotten early experiment that might never see release. Admittedly, I kinda passed over this one at the time in favour of his more martian halfstep tunes, but recently I was struck by its prescience - the sheer driving energy of its wonky pounding rhythm seems to tap right into the current mindset. Jakes is the only member of the H.E.N.C.H collective who's work has yet to be released, although that is all set to change very shortly!
As if to underline some of the vague talk of Bristol's increasing solidarity with German techno, Headhunter's remix of Hanover-based Martin Buttrich's "Well Done" is timely. But what's really surprising is just how rampantly technofied Headhunter's version is - bouncing along with a solid 4/4 beat and those cheeky little percussive drops that raise the energy levels, rather than stripping them away - after having previously established himself with such a refined variation of the halfstep sound. This one's in the shops now, but also look out for some Bristolian remixes of the mighty Pole, forthcoming on the Berlin-based ~scape label. Peverelist's remix of "Winkelstreben" leaves the original eating it's dust (I'd hoped to include it here, but didn't get clearance in time).
Skepta's "Stage Show Rhythm" is of course the wild card in the pack, an instrumental track from one of the most hotly-tipped MCs to emerge from London's still-burning Grime scene. I bought this 3-track test pressing purely on recommendation on my last visit to Rooted Records (thanks, Tom!), and was really knocked sideways when I played it back home by the lead track's feisty percussive intensity - perfect for sustaining the level of headlong rhythmic dynamism I was looking for at this stage of the mix. The only drawback being that it doesn't have a bassline, so all you lo-end addicts will have to hold tight for a few minutes!
The mix closes with another white-hot exclusive. Having already helped to solidify the tenuous Bristol-Berlin link with "The Grind" via his own Punch Drunk label, The Peverelist has concocted an absolutely stunning follow-up in the shape of "Infinity Is Now". Its a bit embarrassing for me to write such gushing praise for someone who I consider to be one of my closest, most long-standing associates in this new generation of Bristol-based producers (leading to accusations of favouritism?), but the fact is that Tom is creating the music of my fucking dreams right now. Featuring hypnotic waves of chattering synth droplets, layered with what sounds like a tuned 808 cowbell and a subliminally infectious undercurrent of subsonic pressure, "Infinity.." soars on a spiritually nourishing eight-and-a-half minute journey that's so sexy its practically orgasmic. In my view this tune really needs to be released right now to consolidate on what he's already achieved with just one release, but it probably won't hit the racks until early next year, more's the pity. The mix fades out tantalisingly at the breakdown, just as the heavenly sustained strings sweep into view. It might be a while before you get a chance to hear "Infinity.." in its full glory, but it'll be worth the wait.
Fade in hollow drone and typewriter sound effects, fade out and close. Good night and God bless...
27 August 2007
17 August 2007
During a recent family holiday along the Somerset coast, I chanced upon the Washford Radio Museum, situated at the site of the old BBC Regional Transmission Station, which is still operational, though since upgrading to more compact modern equipment in the late '70s most of the building (a nice example of '30s Art Deco architecture) became surplus to requirements, so it's since been transformed into a family wildlife/adventure park, which was the reason I was there - trying to keep the kids entertained!
Get past the animal enclosures, aquarium, cafe, gift shop and kiddies play areas, and the Radio Museum is situated in a smallish inner-chamber nestled at the heart of the building. It is unattended, and during the time I spent wandering around it's cramped exhibits I didn't see a single other person, even though the rest of the site was respectably busy with other holidaymakers. Naturally, Mrs. Gutter and my children had no interest in accompanying me to the museum, preferring to stay outside enjoying the intermittent sunshine. I wouldn't have it any other way: they keep me anchored to the present where otherwise my mind would be perpetually lost in the past or wondering about the future. Ancient recordings of ballroom music piped softy around the room, adding to the odd sense of stepping into another world, or time.
Although many exhibits were nicely labeled and housed in glass display cabinets, many others were piled in seemingly disorganised heaps, as though who ever curates the museum had been overwhelmed by the task and simply gave up trying to organise it. As the museum's name suggests, there were plenty of old wooden or bakerlite-encased wireless radios on show, but it was the more arcane professional audio equipment that really intrigued me - unwieldy hunks of tin covered in knobs, switches and dials, who's original purpose wasn't always immediately obvious.
There were a few beautiful old reel-to-reel tape recorders on display, too. The sort of things that were undoubtedly used by the Radiophonic Workshop back in the '50s and '60s to create those incredible Music Concrete mini-masterpieces. In the hands of people like Delia Derbyshire or Brian Hodgson, these tape machines became early samplers.
Elsewhere, a selection of microphones (see above, top) ,a dusty mixing desk, some fucking huge valves and of course a gramophone...
Not forgetting piles of old issues of Wireless World and other technical magazines of the period, featuring enough design ideas to keep Ghostbox's Julian House inspired for several years...
What a fantastic little place! There's a website with a bit more background info, for anyone who might be vaguely interested, although (like the museum itself) it doesn't appear to have been finished.