We Love is an opportunity for EB writers to contemplate, rant, and rave about one of their current musical obsessions and the deeper issues they inspire. For our first installment of the regular feature, Laurie Tompkins backs Lukid’s Crawlers, on Liberation Technologies.
If someone has recommended Lukid’s music to you, chances are they’ll have lauded its low fidelity and waxed lyrical about its fuzzy textures and degraded beats. While it’s true that Luke Blair’s woozy productions are often drenched in tape hiss, lumping him in with the lo-fi contingent does a disservice to the precision and craft of Crawlers. Of course, I don’t mean to say that the constituents of said contingent aren’t precise or artistic—I just want to explain why Lukid’s latest record stands out.
The EP’s four tracks are full of evocative sound combinations which might appear mismatched in a lesser producer’s hands. “The Brick Burner” plays off cold, plain synths and a rasping banjo line, while the cutting 808 rattles of “Nine” brilliantly sharpen the impact of scaling synths. In the video for “Nine,” digital shafts of light through the windows of an empty club, which strikingly captures the record’s defiant negotiation of grit and gloss.
M.E.S.H., aka James Whipple, is a Berlin based artist and electronic musician originally from Southern California. A member of the Janus colletive, Whipple’s second EP, Scythians (PAN), was released this summer and expertly reconceptualized Jersey house, hardstyle, and trap into a sound all its own. This is his first contribution to Electronic Beats.
I first met TCF, aka Lars Holdhus, through a friend from California who met him at the Städelschule, an art school in Frankfurt. I knew his previous project very well, which was an extremely consistent series of gabberized dancehall bootlegs and chipmunked bubbling tracks that managed to mock the spread of musical memes through sites like SoundCloud and Tumblr while inspiring dozens of imitators. Lars and I share some interests in common, and I remember our first conversations centering on hardcore electronic music and the spread of club music trends over the Internet. As a contemporary artist, his research interests go deep into block-chain encryption and network hierarchy. Listening to his new record on Liberation Technologies, I was struck by the contrast between his ability to conceptually ground his work and the resulting deeply absorbing and interpretive listening experience. What follows are thoughts on and reactions to the individual tracks that make up the record.
“D7 08 2A 8D 2A 37 FA FE 17 0E 62 39 06 81 C8 A1 49 30 6F ED 56 AD 5E 04”:
Hardcore can describe a sonic palette as much as a reaction toward stylistic inertia. A tendency in which established parameters aren’t abandoned but are maximized to the edges of their own spaces of possibility. Hardcore treats emotional and sensorial intensity as an algorithm to be optimized. “D7 08 2A[…]” begins with an incantation— “slow, slow”—over what sounds like a wet balloon being tied or an injection hose writhing out of its casing. Beneath electrostatic noise sweeping cross-spatially comes a rapid plasticized pizzicato, then a low system tone stuck in an indeterminate arpeggiation, the ground for a detuned flute to cross over like a spark of discharged neon gas.
“46 4D 68 77 64 A0 43 B7 E9 A7 CB B4 BE 68 6B CB A0 5E 10 02 CC 96 EA 75”:
A cipher is an algorithm, a series of steps that encrypts or decrypts plain text. A cipher requires a key to operate. Some ciphers work on fixed-size blocks, others work on a continuous stream of symbols. If TCF has left keys in his music, they are buried beneath opaque layers of textural strata. “46 4D 68[…]” opens with cinematic synth strings perforated by tremolo and undergirded by the sounds of small machines that seem to be counting or authenticating a signal passed down a chain.
“54 C6 05 1C 13 CC 72 E9 CC DC 84 F2 A3 FF CC 38 1E 94 0D C0 50 5C 3E E8”:
This track sounds like a threshold in the system being reached, a vigorous new awareness achieved, at once shocking and sedative. TCF’s music reflects the weirdly emotional intensity of nonorganic entities, the inhuman agency of machine life. This confluence of the epic, the sentimental and the austere comes to a head as trance synthesizers slot themselves into a Steve Reichian pulse.
“F8 5E BB 63 94 B5 17 BA 74 AC 11 EE 33 86 B2 7E 93 E0 E4 AA B4 CF 1F 64”:
The system in deep ferment. TCF is a dedicated tea enthusiast, and has spent the last year sampling eighty varieties of tea. Last spring he decided to select some of the most interesting, and, using a crowdfunding website, offered a tea subscription service. The project is called Tiny Encryption Algorithm or TEA. You receive your tea in a silver anti-static bag with a print on one side. The first tea offered was a Da Hong Pao. Along with the tea comes a download code with which one can receive music composed by TCF, in this case what sounds like a Lubomyr Melnyk piece generated algorithmically for MIDI piano. There is a certain uncanny feeling when listening to TCF’s music, like you are hearing tropes from avant-garde music recapitulated and resynthesized by anonymous processes.
“DB 9F 72 A8 B4 1C 62 8A 3C 96 22 8B 5B 03 23 6F 81 16 64 76 3E 0A D8 16”:
At the peak of the record, this song begins with submerged synth tones and what sounds like fluids splashing in concrete chambers, or underwater recordings of distant naval exercises. The oddly emotive rave synthesizer returns. TCF’s music displays a comfort with musical manipulation—the winding song structures, overwrought chords, and cinematic usage of sound effects and sub-bass reflect an artist comfortable with using all available tricks.
“E5 42 CC 3C 83 3D A0 76 DE 90 E4 CB 49 99 C9 9F C5 48 7A A8 2F 34 1F BC”:
The record winds down with a euphoric distorted string piece. The machine sounds, previously plastic, now sound like metal grinding on stone.
“97 EF 9C 12 87 06 57 D8 B3 2F 0B 11 21 C7 B2 97 77 91 26 48 27 0E 5D 74”:
For a record built on conceptual rigorousness, E4 15 C4 71 97 F7 8E 81 1F EE B7 86 22 88 30 6E C4 13 7F D4 EC 3D ED 8B is lush and dimensional. It reveals an artist consumed by processes and networks, and collaborating with systems to push the listener to extremes of emotion. ~
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.~
Louise Brailey speaks to the producer, DJ and label owner about hero worshipping Suicide, kicking against the swing and playing “Warbeat” to a club full of Germans.
Oscar Powell makes music that sounds ill right down to its splintered bones. His releases so far, from his debut EP The Ongoing Significance of Steel & Flesh and its follow up Body Music, both for his own label Diagonal, and his forthcoming EP Fizz for Liberation Technologies possess something of no wave’s artful, obnoxious sonic provocation beneath the economical technoid thrust. Indeed, while people have been quick to group Powell with the new dawn of industrial techno (this is undoubtedly music of a certain heft and austerity) it’s a sound that recalls NYC basements more than Brummie warehouses. The flinty, off-beat percussion, the notable lack of reverb, his sudden recourse into piercing frequencies, all have the effect of creating a strain of techno that feels as if it’s clenching in on itself, a heaving, feverish clump of muscle and sinew. Body music indeed. But there’s a bone-dry sense of humor too. His own DJ sets have seen the one-time junglist attempt to redraw the rules of what’s acceptable for an—ostensibly—techno DJ to play. You’ve only to watch his Boiler Room set for an timely outing of Creedence Clearwater Revival… And that’s before we get to the Sieg Heils. Time, then, for some explanations.
You’re responsible for probably one of my favorite moments that I’ve ever experienced at Berlin’s Berghain. At CTM you played a record that sampled Adolf Hitler to a crowded dance floor.
That’s a track by the old New Beat band called Bassline Boys called “Warbeat”. I always read it as an anti-Nazi track because, if you listen closely, there are clear remarks about plotting Hitler’s downfall. There are also Churchill samples to offset Hitler’s “Sieg Heil” samples. It’s difficult to know where that band itself stood because they only made a few records as far as I know—probably because of that one, to be honest. But how are we to know their intent 25 years later? All we can do is make our own minds up based on the music we hear. So for me, yes, playing the record was meant to be provocative because it forces you to ask those questions, but it was never meant as anything more than that. CTM gravitates towards music that provokes, so it felt like it would be an interesting time to play that record. I apologize if it caused offense.
You clearly do want to provoke in other ways too. There’s a confrontational aspect embedded within the frequencies you use, too. Your tracks can be pretty abrasive on the ear, especially on a big system.
It’s definitely intentional, yes. I’ve made music for a pretty long time now and had thought about releasing stuff earlier. I’m relieved I didn’t, because, looking back, I honestly didn’t have anything to say. Everything was too comfortable. It might have been dark, abstracted, odd—all those things we tend to like—but it didn’t really do or say anything. Nothing jumped out. It was boring. Chugging bass frequencies were boring, too comfortable. I like the feeling of being uncomfortable, of being surprised and smacked in the face by music. When I started taking the bass out of the music, for instance, and using new frequencies, it felt liberating. I think that now comes through in high, clanging, physical drum sounds but also the noise frequencies and higher synth bursts. It’s also why I like doing intros that start with tonal stuff that kind of grab your ears and forces you to listen. If you hear that in a club then the record can’t just drift by unnoticed.
You don’t use reverb either which makes a huge difference, it takes a while for the listeners’ ears to adjust to that kind of dry production.
I think that comes from listening to really badly recorded old bands in basements where there’s no mixing or treatment on the records. I fell in love with that dry tom-led drum sound, the sound of a drum and nothing else. Reverb is one of those things that’s part and parcel of music now and many people use it beautifully. Paul Purgas, a good friend, is a great example. He and James Ginzburg [the duo of Emptyset] will rig lost buildings with mics just to build a beautiful impression of how sound travels through the space. The same goes for Raime—that is what they do. And it’s amazing—but I could never do it better. So yeah, I focus on other things. I also think it’s too easy to give the illusion of space in music because of what reverb plug-ins can do. For me, there’s something fascinating and odd about making music that isn’t knitted together by a reverb tail that you can fire up on a computer. The dry sound of a drum or a synthesizer is a wonderful thing if you only let it rip.
The closest comparison I can draw to the texture you employ is Suicide at their most raw and frayed.
I adore Suicide—so linear, so groovy, but also so artistic in the sense that they were doing something that no one could believe at the time. It was a proper stake in the ground. Another moment from that night at Berghain was being able to play “Rain of Ruin” to 1000 people; it was a great moment for me, playing a song that means so much to me to a crowd of people who are up for hearing great records. It was like a perfect combination of things.
I’m not sure if my music sounds like Suicide, although it certainly borrows from them. That’s the challenge with making music that’s so clearly indebted to the past. How do you combine stuff in a way that’s actually new? I think that’s what I’m striving for. But I would much rather be in Martin Rev and Alan Vega’s shoes, having done something that is so obviously different to everything that’s been before. That’s what separates the men from the boys in music, I guess. To find it today, I think you have to look at where music now converges with art. My knowledge of that space is fairly limited, but it does feel like that’s where the magic is happening. If you put a Hecker record on, you can be fairly sure you’re gonna hear something you haven’t heard before. There’s something thrilling about that.
Russell Haswell, who has always been in that space, actually introduced me to Paul Smith, a hero of mine, who now runs Blast First Petite and has been a hugely influential character in British music for many years, and some of the stories he had from managing bands like Suicide, Wire, Nitzer Ebb and all of that Mute lot were great to hear. I felt a bit like a kid being read a bedtime story, listening on wistfully. But yeah, all of those bands—I adore them.
Did an interest in these seminal bands come before the interest in dance music? I read you were obsessed with drum ‘n’ bass as a teenager, so where does the hero worship of Wire, Suicide and Nitzer Ebb fit in?
I was definitely interested in dance music before. I got into it around 1999, 2000, just before drum ‘n’ bass got really bad. It happened when I started going to clubs when I was 16 or 17. Then it became an obsessive dedication to dance music for many years. It was only when I started listening to other bands that I realized there was a whole other world out there. I didn’t really get off on much new dance music after that, but you can’t fully shake those roots, I don’t think—and nor would I want to. I love DJing in a club. I love the challenge of playing club music without playing club music and that’s what really excites me: being able to bring records to that environment that would never normally be heard and trying to make them fit together in a way that people respond to.
Of course, the UK’s post punk sound—with the dub infatuation—and the dancefloor primitism of industrial bands exerted its own influence on drum ‘n’ bass. They’re not so far removed.
I think what drew me away from dance music was hearing the things I loved about it in other music. I used to think I could only find it in electronic music, but all it takes is an introduction to an artist from a different field and, if you’re into music, you’ll follow your nose until suddenly you’re drowning in a world of incredible new stuff. That’s how it works. You just can’t get to the bottom of it, and realizing there was this whole world beyond dance music was really when I fell in love with it all over again—and also when I started to feel like I was getting somewhere with the things I was making myself.
How much of your music is a deliberate kick against the swung, spacious records that have been central facet of British dancefloors for so long?
I’ve never really liked swing in records. I was always into everything except for garage. It never struck a chord with me. In terms of space, I definitely think it’s a reaction because you always hear music that’s perfectly constructed. The bottom end is the bottom end, the highs ping along beautifully, and the snare smack straight down the middle. I like the feeling of music that becomes one solid thing rushing towards you at speed rather than a bunch of segmented parts thrown on top of each other.
A lot of the best post-punk bands were politicized; it was, at its best, a music of dissent. Is your interest in it aesthetic, or are you concerned with making political music as well?
There is no political element to my music. It’s purely aesthetic. That’s why I’ve always tried to keep the label aesthetic-oriented. There is no great meaning or intent with either the music or the label beyond the aesthetic. It’s almost superficial. Politics has never really driven me artistically or creatively.
But you frequently play a record which samples George W. Bush in your DJ sets?
I just think that’s funny. Humor is something that is definitely important to me. I like to have fun with music. I don’t like to take it too seriously and I feel I’m finally getting to a place where I can actually do that with the music I make. Sampling gives you that freedom; you can literally pull things from anywhere. And also, freeing yourself from arranging stuff in predictable patterns means you can suddenly introduce the element of surprise, and surprises have been something I’ve always found pretty funny—at least when you’re the one in control! It is serious music, of course, but there’s definitely room for more humor in underground circles. Not everything has to be about death and decay.
A few people have asked me about that George Bush record. It’s a comical piece made by artist Lenka Clayton who cut up every single word from a George Bush speech and arranged them alphabetically. It plays on Bush’s absurd reputation and it becomes totally ludicrous when you hear the words back to back. Put them over another track and they take on new life.
What’s next, are you working on performing your productions in a live context?
More and more people seem to be pushing me to do a live show. It’s what you do, right? Release music, do a Boiler Room, develop a live show, tour the world! There are some things that are stopping me from doing it: the first is a love of playing records. My background is in dark, loud clubs where you go to hopefully hear some music that you’ve never heard before. That culture of DJing, of sharing records, dubplates, playing something no one would ever dare to play, something that doesn’t fit but somehow works—I’ve been craving that platform since I was 15 years old. Now that I’ve got it, I kind of want to explore it.
Also, there’s been a lot said about boundaries being broken between scenes recently, and you can feel it, too. The people I’ve met through music, the friends I’ve made—everyone comes from somewhere different. It’s great. And to me I think that can create an interesting new role for a DJ: someone who can combine all of those things we love into something coherent. I’m not saying I can do that at all, but I can at least try.
As for new music, there’s the new EP on Liberation Technologies just out, a remix for Silent Servant on Jealous God which has been fun to do, a few other remix projects and then maybe a new EP before the end of the year. I’m also trying to focus on the label a bit. I’ve not done much with it yet, but am now doing it with an old friend of mine, Jaime Williams, and he’s given me a bit of a kick up the arse, so hopefully we’ll have a bunch of interesting stuff coming up that comes from different places—starting with the Blood Music EP which is just out, and a Shit and Shine EP in a month or so.~
Powell’s Fizz EP is out June 17th through Liberation Technologies.