In our new BPM column, we review a clutch of the most intriguing electronic music currently on offer. This month, Robin Howells rounds up Regis and Russell Haswell’s Concrete Fence, Mark Fell, Moin, DJ Q, R-Zone and Saga.
Artist: Concrete Fence
Title: New Release (1)
Format (release date): 12”/download (out now)
All of a sudden last year, it seemed as if PAN releases were being covered everywhere. Meanwhile provocateurs such as Regis, an originator of black-humored Birmingham techno, and artist/noise hooligan Russell Haswell seem to have become widely accepted. Maybe it’s the effect of 13 years in the cultural, social and economic wastelands of the 21st Century, or something. Courtesy of PAN we now have Regis and Haswell collaborating for the first time on record, although Haswell has previously appeared on Regis’s label, Downwards.
The metaphors implied by Concrete Fence—restriction, brutal materials—are apt. “Industrial Disease” sets towering slabs of noise wobbling menacingly, with a wiry, unravelled beat just about holding things together. “Caulk” drifts in clouds of background hum and volatile percussion, suddenly swept away by the sound of a sandstorm hitting some harsh urban wind tunnel. Often you can sense techno’s rhythmic pull, tugging away in the background. But it only takes hold on B-side “The Unabridged Truth”, as swarms of noise lock into orbit around a kick drum. As soon as the track peaks it collapses into dust particles, wafting around for the next four minutes between random stridulations and cryptic concrète. Top marks in holistic conceptualism and perverse DJ tools.
12”/download (out now)
The obvious line on Mark Fell is that he’s conceptual. He makes records called n-Dimensional Analysis, which looks like it could be a method of checking equations in physics. He has a background in installation art. But at heart he’s a sensualist, interested in forms for the pleasure they contain. The trick is in the elegant way he knots the two things together.
In typical style these two extended tracks are exceptionally lush, nourished by an obsession with early-’90s US house. Fell’s glistening globs of digital sound are inspired as usual by equipment of the time, namely Yamaha’s FM synthesisers and various drum machines. Fell’s solo output has surged in the past two years (away from his duo SND with Matt Steel) including six 12”s as Sensate Focus. This excursion with Mute sub-label Liberation Technologies does nothing to dent his consistency, although it’s not an obvious one to single out. This could be two outtakes from Sensate Focus; good but nothing essential.
Blackest Ever Black
12” (out now)
This is Tom Halstead and Joe Andrews of Raime fame, with their first record likely to disrupt the ambience at a dinner party. Brian Eno would nod his egg-like head at Raime’s gothy atmospheres sinking into the wallpaper, assuming he’s kept up in his tastes a bit. As Moin, Halstead and Andrews get comparatively spiky and domineering. In between odd vocal outbursts, they handle guitar, bass and drums rather roughly compared to the scraped strings and subliminal feedback of Raime.
The pair are much too controlled to let rip, mind you. While the playing on EP superficially resembles metal, they say the instruments are “arranged with effects and sequencer.” Presumably this involves looping and mixing short passages, judging by the drums’ unwavering timing and the guitar’s consistent tone. These linear arrangements parallel the cautiously unpacked narratives of Raime, so EP isn’t such a departure after all. Nonetheless it’s enjoyable to hear Halstead and Andrews making a more assertive noise.
DJ Q ft. Louise Williams
“Let The Music Play”
download (out now)
Bassline is a style of UK garage peculiar to certain areas of England. It has never been influential abroad and has now fallen out of popularity even in its home country. Until last year, DJ Q could be pigeonholed as the genre’s equivalent to Dillinja or Bad Company, seemingly an endless font of no-nonsense club tracks. 2012’s The Archive contained a marvelous horde of this music, showing off its effectiveness and consistency over a period of nearly ten years. In retrospect, Q could have been drawing a line under this output. Shaking off the one-track mind portrayed on The Archive, his singles with Louise Williams have flirted with both sweet 2-step and junglist breakbeats. On his third collaboration with the singer, their music increasingly resembles the club-aware hits of Katy B and Jessie Ware, attempting proven pop tactics without a shade of irony. Q works dramatic EQ and phaser effects on what sounds like a glossy disco sample, riffing on the chart-topping French house of Stardust circa 1998.
It’s an open question whether “Let The Music Play” can achieve similar success. It would be tempting to say anyone can do a Disclosure now, but it would be naive to overlook the marketing muscle built up behind such stars. If you’re charmed by the romance of frustrated pop (pretty much the defining ethos of indie rock, incidentally and oddly) then this one might be for you.
12″ (out now)
R-Zone is the latest imprint from Den Haag’s DJ TLR, of the respected Creme Organization and Bunker labels. Several producers have contributed material to the series, but everything is labelled as R-Zone. If you washed off this record’s glitchy label art, it could be an unbelievable second-hand find. A whole EP of quirky 1992 tracks at slo-mo tempos? Very useful for DJs in 2013. R-Zone 05 is similar to other hardcore rave-style projects like Paul Woolford’s Special Request, in that its basic parts could all be found on the mountain of records made in the original era. Unlike most of these projects, however, the comparison to the ’90s is not unfavorable.
You sense that making this music meant something, that it didn’t purely result from the convenience today’s producers have. Combine that with exquisite production and composition and the result stands on its own merit. In fact subtle anachronisms do sneak in, not really chronological errors but juxtapositions that weren’t made until later in history. But cleverly they blend in behind the more obvious, diversionary statement being made. Perhaps unusually for anonymous tracks (although there is a credit on the label in very small letters) these four get more interesting with time.
download (September 20th)
Saga’s debut doesn’t hang together perfectly, but it’s promising. The clearest statement of his talent is the last track, “Newsance”, where the parts really work in harmony with the whole. Holes in the rhythm allow the tune to breathe and vice versa, achieving a stillness amid the momentum of the track. Small gestures become compelling, including power-up sounds and doors unlocking like in the disjointed narrative of an old computer game.
New-age grime acolytes might groan at the sound of his name, understandably ten years after his relevance, but Wiley was the best at this kind of wizardry, closely followed by another Roll Deep producer Danny Weed. You don’t escape the shadow of the master that easily, especially not with the sliding, square-wave bass and “Ice Rink” high hat shuffles in “MT” and “Wizley”. Most of the EP forgets economy for a busy, ravey collision of energy and ideas, which gets a bit tiring one track after another. But it does throw up some interesting flavors, including sour lead synths that echo bleep and bass or Belgian techno. Unlike Visionist, the producer behind the Lost Codes label, Saga doesn’t deconstruct grime any more than it was deconstructed the moment it was invented. So far, his music builds on foundations that have been established for some time. On the plus side, it’s hard to imagine any of these tracks not banging in a club.~