19 January 2007


Highroad returns next month for it's second outing, after a very successful launch party back in November. The brains behind all this is Chris, Tom's right-hand man at Rooted Records. By the way, there's been signs of life at the Rooted blog recently, including some nice Youtube'd footage of Bass Clef's in-store appearance.

#2 looks like another winning combination, with headliner Shackleton's stock at an all-time high recently, due in part to the Villalobos connection. Looking forward to seeing Sam play-out. I've met him a couple of times but never managed to catch the man in action. As with Bass Clef, there will be an in-store appearance/performance at the shop beforehand at about 6pm.

Apparently Rob Smith has been writing 'wicked' dubstep tunes and is promising a hot selection, new and old. Sterling support coming from local heroes Pete Bubonic, Kymatik, Peverelist and Chris himself - probably playing a bit of reggae early on (but c'mon mate, can't you think up a catchier DJ name?!).

Cosies is a tiny venue, and I reckon it's gonna be fucking rammed for this, so get down early to avoid disappointment!

See you there, all being well...


On the subject of Rooted, it's good to see the online store is expanding it's horizons, with the vinyl section now including reggae, jungle and, er, 'other'. There's so much more to Rooted than just grime and dubstep, and I'm really glad they've decided to upon things up a bit. But it's still only a small part of what you can find in the racks. Sure, they've got the latest Sleeparchive doublepack, but when I was in the other day I managed to scag a couple of hard-to-find limited techno pressings I'd been searching for, which weren't listed online. There isn't much demand for minimal techno, apparently, but Tom's on a mission to keep a few choice releases on the racks for discerning customers. Always worth e-mailing if there's something you want but can't see on the site. You never know...

Tenuous Shackleton link to Minimal Techno: Sam shares a name with the famous explorer Earnest Shackleton, who had a right miserable time when his ship got stranded on Elephant Island. The first Sleeparchive ep was called 'Elephant Island' too. Surely this is no coincidence? Eh? Eh?!

16 January 2007


Free, yes. But don't get too excited - it's just some old crap by me.

Desperately trying to prove my techno credentials (to myself, more than anyone else) I went searching through a stack of old cassettes, trying to find any evidence of contemporaneous mixtapes that might shed some light on what sort of tunes I was playing out, 'back in the day'. I know I used to make recordings of practice mixes, but alas I can't seem to find any. Probably just taped over them. But I did come across several forgotten demo tracks I'd made, on a distinctly minimal tip, from around the mid-'90s, like Deep Pan. This is the sort of thing I would've almost certainly considered a failure at the time - the production is a bit ruff and over-compressed - but to my ears has actually aged quite well, in fact sounding a lot better than much of the work I considered my best at the time. I think there's more acceptance of degraded/wonky production values these days, and it might even fit into a particularly leftfield minimal mix today. I have a vague recollection of the session when this was recorded (in early '95, I think) and I was on a real purist analogue kick at that time. There's no samples or digital kit in there at all, not even any MIDI. The various machines were connected using Roland's old Sync 24 system, including three drum machines - the 707, 808 and 909, plus a filthy acid gurgle from the TB-303, and probably the Juno 60's arpeggiator sync'd to the 707's rimshot for the bassline part. The whole thing would've been a live jam, bringing elements in and out on the mixing desk, freaking with the fx as the mood took me. That's my dark, twisted soul laid bare on tape, folks. As such it's practically a live recording, and a nice illustration of the sort of performance elements I yearn to bring back to my own music, as described in my recent 'Guttertech' post.

is a much more palatable, melodic offering, featuring the unmistakably rich, noisy tones of the Juno 60 in full flight. The dense clouds of reverb and crusty veneer of cassette noise help to give an inadvertent flavour of Rhythm & Sound's delicately distressed textures, although obviously it's not anywhere near that league. I think I might've over-elaborated with the synth parts in the second half, and it sounds like something was out of tune. Finally (for now), an untitled piece featuring some crushed 808 loops on the intro and a fluctuating arpeggio riff that seems to think it's on some sort of jazz odyssey. For that reason, I've decided to call it "Jazz Hands", and I'm dedicating it to my mate 'Mr. D'.

These tunes are so old and half-remembered, I can barely recognise them as my own musical offspring. At the time I suppose I must've simply dismissed them as 'works-in-progress', half-developed and sloppily produced. It's only now, over a decade later that I can enjoy them for what they are: snapshots in time, the creative process in it's raw state. And it's hard to remember how isolated I would've been then. This was long before I had internet access. There was no Myspace or message boards to connect with like-minded people and promote myself through those direct channels. The only people I had any kind of feedback from were my immediate circle of friends, most of whom wouldn't have been inclined towards these type of tracks anyway. These are just a small handful from all the hours of music I made back then, and most of it has probably never been listened to by anyone but me. What was it all for, I wonder...?

14 January 2007


I hooked-up with the Doppelganger for pre-match drinkees at my old haunt The Prince of Wales on Gloucester Road. Conversation was stimulating as always, although I did blurt-out some stuff about my deviant past that, perhaps with hindsight, should've remained undisclosed - and him a Psychology expert, too! Doppelganger's tone was one of mild interest as he gently probed around the edges of my neurosis, but his eyes said 'you dirty little fucker'. Despite this, we were getting quite comfy in our little corner of the overcrowded pub, until a text from Bass Clef roused us on our way across town to the legendary Black Swan for another one of those all-night raves that I occasionally muster enough strength for. A respectable queue had already formed outside the venue, so we knew the night was taking off. Wasn't sure if I'd made the guest list, but thankfully there was a friendly face on the door to wave me through anyway (my luck's definitely in this year!).

Checked the main event first. The home team's soundsystem at one end of the room and the visitors from Cambridge at the other - spitting mercilessly violent bursts of sten gun beats at each other across a no-man's land of dreadlocked freaks, evil-bastard clowns and coked-up gonzos. Welcome to hell. In the middle of all this we found the Bass Clef, in his Ralph Cumbers secret identity, looking thoroughly bemused. "Five minutes of breakcore and I'm full", said he, and suggested we go chill (quite literally) in the garden area with Atki 2 and Hanuman. John was fretting because his laptop was misbehaving, plus he'd just bumped into an old flame and was feeling a bit unnerved by the experience. So then we headed upstairs for the far more agreeable vibes of the Ruffnek Discotek, in time for a couple of saucy dj sets from Punksi (disco-dub-breaks) and Kymatik (not as stylistically adventurous as some of his previous sets, but still an immaculate craftsman). Managed to grab a bit of social/networking time with visiting dignitaries Pinch, Peverelist and Gatekeeper, too.

Then Ralph donned his stage suit, turned into Bass Clef and proceeded to fuck us all up with yet another blinding live performance. I last saw him play in November, at Cosies, a venue so tiny that he had to set up his gear precariously on a little table in a corner of the room with the crowd surrounding him in a semi-circle, but it was wonderful to watch him working so close-up. I think he enjoyed that too, as it gave him an opportunity to pass out percussion instruments and let the audience join in on the final track. By contrast the dj booth at the Swan is like a dug-out, placing a big barrier between us and him. Bass Clef is a performer, in the truest sense of the word, and he really needs to be seen properly, but apart from that it was sheer bliss. No doubt bolstered by the critical success of his debut album, Ralph's confidence was at it's peak as he led us through all the hits. "Clapton Deep", with it's ponderous chords and disjointed beats that clatter like drunken tap dancers, is still the benchmark of excellence, but "Welcome To Echo Chamber", "Opera" and a slightly revised "Cannot Be Straightened" still worked a powerful spell too. The temperamental Theremin was sounding better than ever, as Ralph literally coaxed voluptuous sine-wave swoops out of thin air, plus the ubiquitous trombone was in full effect, especially with that big harmonic drone thing he did near the end, gradually swelling into an overwhelming multi-octave crescendo, before suddenly shattering into a million digital particles, only to gradually coalesce into a shimmering sea of delicate, fluctuating tones. A truly spellbinding moment - and not a beat or bassline in sight! But by that point Ralph had the crowd eating out of his hand - he was invincible, beyond reproach, the bearded demi-god from Hackney come to cleanse the Bristol massif with his love vibrations. "We love you Ralph!" some over-emotional fan screamed as the final wisps of echo-plasm dissolved into the ether. Couldn't have put it better myself.

If I'd been a member of Monkey Steak, I would've been shitting myself at that point - I mean, how do you follow that?! But with their usual easy-going nonchalance, Atki 2 and Hanuman wasted no time in taking us a whole other strange trip. I try to catch these two in action at least every six months, and each time you can be sure the set will be almost completely unrecognisable from the last time, not just the tracks, but changes in overall emphasis too. This was easily the most wide-ranging, far-reaching set I've witnessed to date. Hanuman's interest in ethnic & world music is increasingly coming to the fore, but they're also mounting a full-on 2-Step revival, filled with lashings of euphoric synth, breathy ghost-whispers of female chanteuses and blurred, oscillating trumpet-loops that put me in mind of Terry Riley's "Poppy Nogood". They're taking vocal aceppalas from Flow Dan and Joanna Newsom and forcing them to co-exist in a new mutually compatible environment, and they're skanking out with Junior Mervin in a righteous dubzone. Like Bass Clef, it's about serious music, but also about having a wild party, with a big grin on it's face. Monkey Steak were always on their own circular orbit, but now it's like they're constructing their own galaxy, built on a sublow foundation, where anything and everything can happen. Surely 2007 is the year they get to make an album...?

By the time Monkey Steak took a bow, it was 3am, so myself and Doppelganger (who'd been shaking his booty on the dancefloor for hours) staggered wearily to the exit, just as our host Dub Boy was kicking-off his dancehall set. We both agreed it had been a fantastic night, but with a combined age of 74, and six children between us, we knew that we needed to get to bed urgently. But fuck it, we were there.

13 January 2007

Possibly the first, pivotal Techno-Dubstep soundclash event* of the year... and I missed it!

Oh well...

Last call for Bass Clef, Monkey Steak, etc at the Black Swan 2nite. Dunno if he sanctioned this, but you can grab Bass Clef's remix of Peverelist's "The Grind" over at Tape blog***. It's a wicked lickle re-rub, that remains respectful to Tom's hypnotic original, yet subtly juggling with the raw data, punctuated by those distinctive rhythmic shuffles and a dash of old skool bleepage, ultimately dissolving in a warm bath of pure echo-chamber ambiance.

* Scroll down the page and check Jim's mix, too. Wow, definitely on my wavelength there...

** Christ, unofficial remixes getting shared at blogs before the original's even been released?! Personally, I reckon Ralph's remix is good enough for release in it's own right!

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!

09 January 2007


Click to enlarge, bitch...

08 January 2007


GTTRBRKZ: I must say that your 'UK Product Assistant at Warp' e-mail was the funniest, and possibly most penetrating, thing I've read in ages. Good luck in the 'new job', James - your generation needs you!

V/Vm: Hey Nick, you know I have had a hard time this year, mate. Maybe not as hard as a 9-5, but as hard as a musician can get, and that mail out I did before has given me more pleasure than a top selling release ever will. I am glad you found it funny because I have a smile from ear to ear right now due to the overwhelming response I have been getting from people. There are actually some real people out there making things and trying to make a difference and you find these people, so don't give up and feel it's worthless at your end. And by that I am not referring to my own activities - there is a gift there, so the generation maybe needs you more than it needs someone like me who just pokes a stick right into the eye of the wasp's nest - only because no-one else ever will!

G: Aw mate, don't go saying stuff like that! My sense of relief that I've extricated myself from that position gets messed-up by profound pangs of guilt when people say things like that, but I think I might have to come back this year...if I can find the time! I set out to fill a gap that I knew in my heart needed filling but I only ever expected a small readership. I found it really hard to deal with the huge interest and becoming some sort of spokesperson for a whole genre. All I did was blog my thoughts, but I blogged conscientiously, with commitment and love. And I needed to put some of myself in there too, because I'm not interested in just doing reviews, y'know? It became so hard to be open and honest about my life with so many people watching, yet the blog has to have an element of autobiography for me to remain interested. Maybe I'll get the balance right next time, we'll see...

V/Vm: It's a real strange one - you start off really pushing what you like and it's real honest and always remains honest, but I guess you then feel some kind of responsibility when too many people start reading what you're writing and sending you releases. It adds an unseen pressure to yourself. What was once fun isn't that much fun anymore and becomes a chore because people are waiting to see what you will write and push next.

G: Totally, and I reckon there can't be many bloggers who get complete strangers coming up to them in clubs and shaking their hands and saying how much they love the blog and they know so much about you, even though you know nothing about them...it's the nearest thing to minor celebrity I think you can get without actually going mainstream..and of course that's amazing but very hard for me to cope with too, because I never set out to do that. Sorry for unloading my thoughts on you, James...I get a bit down about it sometimes, especially when I think of all the potential I'm wasting.

V/Vm: If you feel the need to genuinely share some enthusiasm for something be sure to do it, as it means more than those who just plug their friends and spread false feelings for music they don't really care about.

G: That's fucking deep, man. I'll try and stick to that premise. But enough of me, what about you? What's all this about dropping the V/Vm brand?!

V/Vm: It's true I am kind of winding down V/Vm Test. The name V/Vm does me no favours, to be honest. I can do some music - for example that White Death mp3 release or the New Beat thing and people just ignore it because they think it's gonna be remixes of Chris Rea or something , so it's time for a change of direction with things.

G: What's next on the horizon, then?

V/Vm: There is a Caretaker double vinyl coming out on We/Me, the label who did the Made in Belgium 12", so that's something I need to work on.

G: The Caretaker project certainly captured the imagination of several bloggers - K-Punk even wrote the sleeve notes! I'm ashamed to admit it was simply too big a concept for me to organise my thoughts into some sort of review. I was just...overawed by it's magnitude. Has it been selling well?

V/Vm: I am almost sold out, which is great as only two shops had copies of it.

G: And how do you feel about the 365 Project, now that it's all over?

V/Vm: Well, the aim was to have fun, but it caused me to be ill in the end because I couldn't shake being ill due to the pressure of completing the task! That said, it's good to push yourself sometimes and really live a project instead of making just a ten-track disc and saying it was torture to make that.

G: So, post-V/Vm, what's the overall plans for 2007?

V/Vm: It's all about having a nice time this year with less stress.

G: Amen to that!

V/Vm: Stay lucky and keep in touch...

03 January 2007


Dissident vs Life4Land & Ruffnek Diskotek

Saturday 13th Jan 2007

The Black Swan, Stapleton Road, Bristol

10-5, £5 all night

Bristol’s [Dissident] Soundsystem will be taking on Cambridge’s Life4Land Soundsystem in a jungle, breakcore & DnB soundclash of monstrous proportions!

In the [Dissident] corner: Ironside, Mad Tek, Fix, Headphobe, Jon Deviant, Alkemy & Noisy Boy

In the Life4Land corner: Arithmetek, MDS, Ed Cox, Scamp, Ghost, Monsta, Stivs & Mattycore

2 Rigs, one winner, you decide!

Upstairs:Ruffnek Diskotek (Dubstep, Ragga, Bass Pressure)

Bass Clef (Blank Tapes)
Live set from the artist formerly known as RLF. Genius dubstep & electronics with live Trombone and Theramin (sic)!

Monkey Steak (Death$ucker / Punch Drunk)
Live set from Ruffnek favourites pumping out mangled grime, warped dubstep & skewed ragga

Dub Boy vs Midas (Ruffnek Diskotek / P.R.A.N.K)
Riddim assault from two of Bristol's dancehall heavyweights.

Kymatik (Noir / Byte)
Exclusive sludge set mashing up dubstep, breaks, techno, grime & more!

Brother Wetlands vs Star Delta (Boggle / Ruffnek Diskotek)
Bass, electronics and everything inbetween.


Yeah, I could well be up for this. Obviously I'm more attracted to what's happening upstairs. If you've yet to check Bass Clef live, you need to get down there and witness Ralf in action, because it's fucking divine. Watch out for Neil Kymatik and his 'sludge' sound, too - hectic!

Might try and check what's happening in the main arena too...get mi lickle dose of breakcore tomfoolery for the year.