You’ve got to look back to look forward; that’s what Daft Punk said when they teamed up with a chamois cloth called Gorgio Moroder and preceded to make one of the most overhyped and insufferable records ever released during my lifetime.
Music is cyclical, yes… and there is always a tendency from a new generation to make and produce music from the era that came before them since the dawn of Rock Roll. Heavy metal looked to the blues, Punk to R&B, Disco to Motown, House to Disco and Hip hop to Funk and Soul, but as the successors recycled and re-appropriated elements they took on their own identities, and didn’t merely make new music through the rose tinted vision of nostalgia. With Daft Punk it was Duchamp’s pissoir all over again, an old functional piece of furniture lying about being something new.
Electronic club music is unique as music that contains genres and styles that were very much dependent on technology, and thus has always changed with the times, so re-hashing the sounds of high energy and eighties synth pop is doing the music a disservice. And although Techno, Electro and House operate on the very same fundamentals since its creation, the evolution of technology, has taken it through extensive phases through its lifetime. From the very DIY stereo mixes of early House and Techno; the uber-produced second phase of the ‘90s; the rise of computer technology and the bedroom producer; to the era of Eurorack modular systems and the expansive alien sonics we can coax from them today, electronic music’s purview has been influenced and shaped by technological evolutions and its limitations.
Lately however, the majority of electronic music is suffering from some revisionist nostalgia, in which we are echoing the sounds of the early nineties in a kind of pejorative appropriation of early House, Techno and Electro sounds that are completely doing away with that elementary ideology of electronic club music; music that was meant to soundtrack the future.
Synthesizer- and drum machine companies, making digital versions of those earliest machines and “collectors” skimming the surface for the most obvious examples from that era, have distilled the intricacies and eccentricities of the music down to a finite point that in what’s become a kind of puerile interpretation of older music.
There are exceptions of course, and in a little glass-windowed shop in the heart of Oslo, these exceptions converge on the original dance music format, vinyl. It’s a place called Filter Musikk and while the format might remain unchanged, the music contained within remains unwavering in its pursuit for ingenuity and progression in the vast expanse of the electronic music lexicon.. And even though some of these records might have an eye on the rearview mirror they are always looking forward, to the next phase of electronic music.
It’s the cut with Filter Musikk.
Random XS – Centrifuge (M>O>S) 12″
Random XS has probably forgotten more about club music than we care to put together from our collective experience. They’ve been there at the origins of rave culture and machine, dance music as a live act and DJ duo. The Dutch duo released their first EP on Djax-Up-Beats in 1992 and had a successful career throughout the ‘90s in the deep, acid hues of Techno before going on an extended hiatus as a recording act.
They made a well-overdue return on the scene in 2015 with a record for Shipwrec (pragmatically titled “the return”); their sound ageing gracefully in an era dominated yet again by stoic drum machines pushing tempos into heady heights while 303’s create swirling lysergic movements in bold kaleidoscopic flourishes. Today, their music is built on those same fundamentals that brought them into the world, and through some slight digital production enhancements it sounds as contemporary as ever.
After re-issuing their first EP on Delsin at the beginning of the year, they’ve headed over to M>O>S for a brand new track and a reworking of a Random XS classic, that see the duo in a new creative stride that’s sure to see them into the next decade. “Centrifuge” and “Relic reworked” operate on a primal, intuitive level with thunderous, marching kicks working your abdomen while acid refrains indulge hedonistic heights.
Built on the very same fundamentals of their early records while stripping it back somewhat for the modern dance floor, Random XS’ music on this latest record still contain those slight eccentricities, that go beyond the functional for something a little more than just a DJ tool.
HNNY – 2014.12.31 (Omena) 12″
HNNY returns to the Omena roster with an EP bathed in the glistening ambience of beatific melodic refrains and effervescent textures that play between down tempo beats and deep bass-lines. 2014.12.31 finds the Swedish producer dip into serene waters with engaging elements floating on the indolent waves of pressure from the tempered percussive arrangements.
Sonorous bell-shaped sounds peal between alien atmospheres that modulate with the arrangement, lending an expressive charm that flows through the entire release. HNNY finds a unique balance between the organic and the synthesised on this release like the piano on “Rue de Bagnolet” lost in some reverie floating between the abstract soundscapes redolent of glass chimes or the live/sampled drums of “Delores Park” and “Hemma” bouncing between the unnatural electronic components.
There’s something completely intangible about the music, much like the date that christens the release, but yet there is something comfortable and familiar about the record. You simply ease into the depths of HNNY’s music on this record, which just washes over you through its duration.
Nummer – Space Oddities (Vol.1) (Butter Sessions) 12″
Sleep D’s Butter Sessions label is probably one of the more inspired labels out there at the moment. It’s not that there is a sound that is underpinning the nature of the records coming through the label, but more like an attitude where parameters between Techno, House and Electro go undefined and artists are encouraged to explore the vast expanse of the musical dialect, contained in the grey areas.
Nummer provide an archetypal example of this at play on Space Oddities for the label. The French duo combine elements of stark electronica with field recordings, hand percussion and abstract vocal samples in four downbeat tracks that would not sound of place in a Vladimir Ivkovic. Although “Space Oddities” deals in a sound that’s very en-vogue at the moment, they take it to some cosmic extremes where they piece parts together like a dadaist collage. Composed of members whose other projects include E-Talking, a more straight-forward Electro indulgence, Nummer is a little more esoteric.
Between the lucid ambience “Diving Bodies” and the abstract perfunctory House of “Eyes Open” this record does offer a remarkable versatility in terms how far Nummer can push the scope of their sound. There’s something eerie underpinning the record, a discord between elements that float somewhere between mystery and nightmare and which is especially effective on the electro-leaning “Gravitation.”
Millimetric, D.Dan, Schacke, Hadone – A Lot Of Chaos (Kaos) 12″
Kaos is a Hector Oaks’ sub-label trading in the salacious corners of EBM, Industrial and Techno. The young label is only three releases deep, all released in 2019, and have focussed all its efforts on the corporeal pursuits of dance music. It’s music that repurposes the sultry atmosphere of a dark room for a high energy dance floor. Various artists have interpreted the label’s sonic aesthetic from the similar kind of industrial prevalences of its parent label to refurbishing EBM from the 1980’s, while chasing some unimaginable tempo in their music.
Millimetric, D.Dan, Schake and Hadone all proffer a track for this latest release, but you needn’t look further than Millimetric’s opener “Welcome to the D.D.R” (remix) to get swept up in the frenzy that ensues. By the time we get to Hadone’s “Taming the Passion” the record is pushing 145 beats per minute, giving no quarter to anything coming under the roll of the stringent rhythm section. A utilitarian pursuit in kick drums and bass lines avoids any indulgent elements in tracks that rely on an immediacy.
Droning Techno and Industrial atmospheres are stripped back to their core elements where they thrive on the bare functionality of the music, without falling into comfortable tropes, delivering a formidable jolt to the system. For the most part the record deals in the sound du jour where excessive tempos and kick drums marching on the kind of military precision of gabber; convey a kind of disposal music for a contemporarily “cool” dance floor. Millimetric’s opener saves the rest of the record from falling into a kind of popular banality.
DJ Guy – Unthank 012 (Unthank) 12″
We’ve come full circle back to 1992 with another producer who rose out of the firmament of early rave culture. Unlike his Dutch contemporaries, DJ Guy hadn’t started putting his music out until 2014, but as we head further into the past in contemporary music, this music is as relevant as ever.
The Welsh producer and DJ has brought Firecracker’s Unthank out of suspension, with 6 tracks that recall the early electronic sounds of club music, with touches of balearic and 90’s drum machines and synthesisers. Tracks labeled things like “BASF Ferro Extra 1994” suggest that these pieces were collected from tapes gathering dust in a forgotten shoebox somewhere. In amongst the more trance-leaning clichés that dominate this current retro-nostalgic turn in the current landscape, these cuts still sound way ahead of their time, even for today.
When was the last time you heard, Acid, lines, panpipes and 4-4 beats occupy one track? “NEW SQUAD STUFF” aside however this record is full of quirky peculiarities and it contains a lot of its charm in its ruff-and-ready DIY assemblages, with elements phasing in and out of the tracks; drum machines marching on with no sense of direction; and peculiar elements, lifted from some obscure library sources, counteracting against the rest of each track.
“Metal XR 993” and “ASII100 1994” are the closest we get to consistency, but even those tracks, especially the prior, convey the more adventurous aspects of this style of music from a time that has been very much gentrified with new artists pursuing those same sounds today.