Can you hear it? The distant ticking of the doomsday clock. It’s getting closer, louder. It’s just slipped past 100 seconds to midnight on its irrevocable path to the inevitable. Nothing we cdo, can stop it and everything we do is accelerating it. Even those most ancient of past times, music has become a taboo. Everything we’ve done to record and listen to music since the advent of the 20th century is killing our planet, and taking us with it.
Irregardless of format, hope is infinitesimal and at a time where the world is only just waking up to the sounds of the rest of the world, it is ironic that now more than ever, we need to stop. Restrain our listening habits, slow your breath, cease to exist… just… stop. There is no acceptable resolve, short of the simple vocal chord, and who can possibly know the noxious effect of the human voice or the lyricist’s pen. Can you hear it yet… a life without music.
It’s incomprehensible, so I’ll play the devil’s advocate and say it without fear of retribution… Vinyl is our only option. Yes, the most poisonous of formats. A composite of music, locked in plastic through a dirty industrialised process using waste chemicals, that’s where we’ll find our answer. In a disposable consumer culture, a record is a lifetime acquisition today for many (even if you can’t listen to it anymore, it will make a nice bowl) and if it’s not in your collection it’s in a record store, on the used shelf, waiting for a new owner.
In a world where accessibility is key and a world of music waits at your fingertips, records require a level of dedication, a long term investment that’s just expensive enough to garner more than a fleeting interest and valuable enough to live beyond temporal trends. In an age where music is created, produced and discarded over a New York minute, a record takes a little more commitment in for all parties involved, so if you’re going to leave a footprint, leave few impressions, and make them count. Exorbitant costs and availability, encourage limited presses for the reserve of only those most excellent and worthy pieces of music.
In Oslo, there’s a small store at the end of Prinsens gate that is toiling away in its bid to help facilitate a more sincere and less wasteful musical experience. Behind the counter is a man, whose dedication to the format and curation skills has offset all of Oslo’s musical carbon footprint alone. He hardly takes holidays and when he does it’s by train. That man is Roland LIfjell and the shop is Filter Musikk. This is the cut with Filter Musikk.
James Ruskin – Siklikal EP (Tresor) 12″
James Ruskin continues to be an innovative figure in a canon that is currently being commodified in obnoxious DJ Instagram posts and music that constitutes little more than a tired loop. His latest record comes at a time when everybody is pursuing tawdry interpretations of the sound he in part created at the turn of the century through Blueprint and Tresor.
When Techno fell from grace, artists like Ruskin continued to make music with the futurist resolve that guided their predecessors, becoming the archetype for what Techno constitutes on European dance floors today. At a time when Techno is possibly at the height of its popularity, it comes as no surprise that Ruskin would contribute to the scene with a record like “Siklikal.”
The EP on long-time-collaborator Tresor, finds the artist in an introspective mood, feigning the dominance of the kick drum in murky atmospheres. Clattering industrial sounds emerge from a hazy confluence of noise where repetitive sequences lay the foundation for improvised machines.
Like some industrial process imagined by Fritz Lang, the machines take on a life of their own, as chirping formats and oppressive textures obfuscate any central theme or dominant rhythms pattern. Only on “Nepte” and “Nocke” does any kind of percussion exist, but it appears lost in the context of the factory-like ambience that smothers the music.
DJ Richard – Eraser (Flexxseal) 12″ Ltd Ed
Slow, marauding rhythms punch holes in distorting pads, while clumsy elements churn around the eye of a sonic tornado on DJ Richard’s latest, “Eraser.” The music seems to float around in a stupor, travelling through some gloomy tunnel, strewn with used needles and discarded dreams.
A slow pulse dominates “Eraser,” and even when the kick drum is pounding out semiquavers on “Casca’s Theme” there’s an oppressive front lingering on the surface, instilling a druggy haze through the record. The staggering 303 and awkward accents of the title track is this record’s calling card, as DJ Richard establishes a particular mood throughout this record.
It’s a long way off from the chirpy records he has made from Dial in the past, but the layers of texture that dominated those records are still prominent and notable here. They’ve taken a more menacing turn, playing in gloomy chord progressions and distorting percussive arrangements that cling on those claustrophobic mid range frequencies.
Ludwig A.F. Röhrscheid – Between Worlds (Exo Recordings International) 12″
There’s been a significant return to these 90’s rave and trance sounds in the last couple of years. A new generation of DJ/producer, trying to sidestep the Discogs effect has been digging deeper and deeper into the bargain bin, where they’ve defined their sound in the unwanted records. They’ve found a new value in the discarded sounds of 90’s Trance, Breakbeat and Techno and it was only a matter of time until it started informing their own music.
Artists and DJs like Ludwig A.F. Röhrscheid are re-appropriating these heretofore tawdry aspects into serious music, in interpretations that thrive in the original DIY values of these genres, landing on the ears of the modern dance floor enthusiasts who have no relationship to the origins of this sound.
Sparkling 303’s and wispy pads hover just above the corporeal delights of a 909 kick. Updating those stale sounds for the digital realm, Röhrscheid avoids nostalgia, but delights in the charm of melody and harmony that his predecessors enjoyed. There’s a lo-fi element to “Between two Worlds” that plays up to the zeitgeist, and while that familiar flute lifted from that Enigma record for the umpteenth time might sound cute again, you have to wonder how long those bubblegum sounds that dominate the A-side of the record will stay relevant in today’s ever-changing landscape.
“Leave” and “Between Worlds” on the B-side contains something far more substantial than the sugaryA-side. The artist is certainly caught between these two worlds on the record, but as is true of most records, it’s the B-side that will make more of a valuable contribution in the long run.
Heap – Beat Nouveau EP (Mechatronica White) 12″ Ltd Ed
A label will never make any money from a limited press. Even if it sells out completely, which believe it or not is still not a certainty at a mere 616 copies, the record might only recoup its costs if you’re lucky. As a second pressing is highly unlikely, you’re putting everything into this one shot, and that takes a sincere commitment to the music. And then imagine basing a whole label on this ideology.
Mechatronica’s white sublabel is all about that and while the parent label is no commercial success either focussing on the obscure strains of EBM, Electro, and Synth Wave, when they release a record like “Beat Nouveau” it’s worth a listen at the very least.
The thing that strikes you first on this record is the snare (pun intended). Heap avoids the ratchet snares of the commonly used 808 for something with more body and a gated reverb, lifted from some eighties EBM track. “Beat Nouveau” is electro, but it opens the genre up to outside influences. From the snaking downtempo slant of “Beau Geste” to the muted synth wave of “Tat Ark,” there’s a consistent variation to this record, that makes each track count on its own terms.
Jeff Mills – The Director’s Cut Chapter 5 (Axis) 12″
Like Ruskin, Jeff Mills remains the original architect and innovator of the Techno genre. While people are still playing “the Bells” in DJ sets as if to prove their unwarranted significance, that record is the mere tip of the iceberg in a legacy that is so much more than the sum of its popularity.
Re-issuing that track in December last year in the most recent of his Director’s cut compilations (probably why we’re hearing it all over on social media at the moment), it overshadows the extensive scope of Jeff Mills and his music, so it was with a conscious decision that we chose to include the 5th in the series in this list. It contains some of Mills’ more obscure pieces from the mid 2000’s and especially the beautifully orchestrated “Above Waiting Worlds,” one of the prettiest pieces of Techno ever created.
While the rest of the world has only just caught up with the Waveform Transmissions/Bells era, I’m curious how long it will take them to eventually arrive at this era. Another twenty years perhaps?
Ever the sonic auteur, this edition of the Director’s cut re-issues, showcases Mills’ cinematic pursuits, where he constructs pieces in a sci-fi narrative that continues to mystify. There’s that human touch that he always brought to this machine aesthetic, where a visceral component clouds the stark electronic landscape. Even at almost twenty years, these pieces still sound unique, like they’ve arrived from the future.