May 31, 2007

The Skull – Enter The Skull

12"2007HouseMinimal/Deep

I’m so happy Mikael Stavöstrand has stuck at it. After contributing to one of the most lastingly appealing clicks/cuts releases with 2001’s “Reduce” (man, that was six years ago now), Stavöstrand has gone on to “enlarge”, albeit subtly and slowly into something of a techno producer, retaining the lust for the little sound that imbued his earlier work, but sending things kicking and clicking out into the big night with dry overtones and a bassdrum’s irrefutable need to dance all night.

Enter the Skull has all the hallmarks of Stavöstrand’s productions but is equally well-placed on Kindisch, with a fat, housed-up feel that’ll have the Jay Haze lovin’ booty heads juddering and bawling on the floor (in a nice way). “All you Booty Shakers” is the Fuckponiest of the cuts here, even featuring a gratuitous vocal urging you to, guess what, shake your body. “Keep it Moving” adds some disturbing/exciting garbles that sound like the demons in Quake did (a nerd confesses) as well as a massive, evil-sounding flange that attacks just as you start to get comfy with the hellbeast groans in the intro. Just as the undershot jaws and horns are getting too much, “Sensuella” continues the run of apt track titles by paring things back a few notches, with a lonely lady being serenading by sine tones who appear to be telling us that the undead are holding her captive. Or she wants to be held. Or something. “Soundclash” features yet another prisoner of Stavöstrand’s minion-conjuring plugins, and, like the A1, sounds a lot like a Fuckpony record. And that’s not a bad thing. There’s no big track here, but this is still a useful weapon for any micro/mnml leaning DJs who want to add lots of tooth, horn and (of course) skull to their boompty.

Kindisch / KINDISCH 006
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


May 31, 2007

Prinzhorn Dance School – Up! Up! Up!

12"2007DFAIndie-Dance

Prinzhorn Dance School sounds like an innocuous enough name. The group might reject the typical publicity blitz, offering just the barest décor of a website, shadows instead of profiles, and are missing the 21st century business card – a myspace page. But leave it to the U.S. government to make your little hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Now accompanying their rejected Spring tour visas, Prinzhorn’s Sussex sneer and militant drumming suddenly have taken some terror-ridden overtones – “you are a space invader” indeed.

Which makes the new single, Up! Up! Up!, sound even funnier and more tragic in context. Prinzhorn certainly don’t go out of their way to strike the ominous pose that they could get away with given their last couple months. Instead, the retro-riding boy-girl two-piece gets road weary on the title track. Left with hoarse throats, the group’s chants become screams while they spend their days watching cockroaches and fishes. Somewhere along the way, Prinzhorn’s minimal no-wave blueprint gets stretched into a landscape. It’s only amplified by the weak toss-off of a b-side, “Hamworthy Sports And Leisure Center” – a song that reveals how Prinzhorn teeters on the edge of failure with every step. But with two great tracks under their belt (“Up! Up! Up!” & “Space Invader”), it’s time to bring on the album.

DFA / DFAEMIDJ 2170
[Listen]
[Nate DeYoung]


May 31, 2007

Maximilian Skiba – Beginning

Six months ago I’d never heard of Maximilian Skiba. I chanced upon him in a record store, when I picked up a curiously scribbled-on EP with the suspiciously eccentric title “Apple of Disco” (see review here). My inquisitiveness was quickly rewarded with one of the kookiest, most interesting of EPs I’ve heard lately, fashioned through a form of electro soundscaping that moved between references, emotions, and structures more times within the space of one track than some mnml labels have in their whole back-catalogue. Without being a slavish Moroder/Carpenter cribber or dogmatically retro (*cough* Legowelt *cough*), Skiba laid out a ruggedly individual imprint that screamed “talented eccentricity” through a Moog Vocoder and a disco breakdown.

But this is something else. Gone is the hyper reverential work, in its place, tooth-loosening machine electro that kicks harder than a methed up drag queen in a burst of jealous rage. “Transphormer” spreads its muscular legs all over the A, galloping along at 45 with plenty of pressure for the peaktime…and in fact, the perfect “scene” for this record is a catfight between the aforementioned drag queen and his/her unfortunate partner. Sydney Roy (sounding very close to Siegfried and Roy) revs things up for his remix with a dose of “boots and pants”, reigning in the quirk and losing the great touch of Skiba’s original in the process. The B2 is another gem, “Bye-Bye c64” – it’s one of those tracks you fall into, come down with, or break up to – like Todd Terje’s “Eurodans” or Closer Musik’s beautiful “Maria”, this is a real sentimentalists treat. Eyes on the young Pole.

Eva / EVA 006
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


May 30, 2007

Booka Shade – Tickle

The definitive low point of this year’s Winter Music Conference was standing outside the venue for the Get Physical event and being told that Booka Shade were about to wrap up their live set and the door fee had just doubled to $40 a head. At 4:30 AM. This almost makes up for it, though.

“Tickle” could be an addendum to last year’s amazing Movements LP, with those itchy little tapping sounds and swooning ethereal pads the duo favor so much. Their use of percussion in particular seems to have gotten even richer, with oscillating drumrolls and filtered beats sounding both metallic and static-fringed. Tickle? Indeed it does. Even sweeter to these ears is “Karma Car,” balancing a crunchy sawtooth undercurrent with chime and bell-like tones. The wood-circle faerie dance of alternating melody lines that starts close to the two-minute mark gets even tastier with the addition of finger snaps and one of the boys singing wordlessly along. It’s rare to find a track that combines a clean, ultra-modern aesthetic with a great sense of humor, but this is definitely one of those moments. Simultaneously classy and joyous, as we’ve come to expect from this lot.

Get Physical Music / GPM 0706
[Listen]
[Mallory O’Donnell]


May 30, 2007

Marco Resmann – Watercolour

Watercolour gets a tough rap – how many cred artists can you name who use them? I’ve always had a weakness for those watery shades – you’ve only got one chance to make it look right (no overpainting kids!). Sounds like an artistic challenge to me. But, to flip it around, what might watercolour sound like? Enter Marco Ressman (one third of Pan-Pot), with this neat EP: two sides, two kinds of paint, and one chance to lay down the strokes without “going out of the lines”, splashing, smudging, or soaking the paper (sorry, I was way back in my childhood for a moment there).

“Gouache” (or bodycolour) according to Wikipedia “differs from watercolor in that the particles are larger, the ratio of pigment to water is much higher. This makes gouache heavier and more opaque, with greater reflective qualities.” Ressman’s take on the finicky pigment streamlines things with a mesmerising, metallic soundplane which rises and spins past, under-braided by steady tech-house drum patterns slowly drying into a soft-hued outro. I struggled to visualise the finished image, but was reminded of many previous Mobilee releases, with their low-temperature, high-pressure, single-minded aesthetic. In this case, the end-result is a nice rainy afternoon record.

Proper egg tempera (as opposed to prawn tempura) is not even a watercolour, but a way of bonding pigments to paints. It dries quickly, and has to be applied in thin layers, but unlike other paints, the colours don’t shift over time. Ressman’s interpretation on this binding agent likewise issues forth in thin layers of synth-pushed grooves, backgrounded by soft chimes and a snatched vocal. The louder you play it, the better it sounds. In this case, it’s easy to visualise a blue wash like an Yves Klein canvas on an overcast afternoon right before dusk. But maybe that’s laying it on a bit thick.

Mobilee / mobilee021
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


May 30, 2007

Crowdpleaser & St Plomb – 2006 Remixes 1

My God, has it really been three years since the “plugin acid” revival ran its course? Remember all those Dalhbäck and Dahlbäck records? Actually, they were pretty good, I thought. But maybe it’s wrong to ever talk about acid as a “revival”, when it’s never really gone away for more than a moment. Like the Blues Brothers, acid seems to be as revoltingly effective as it ever was, now matter how much of a caning it gets.

Little wonder though, when you hear a record like the “Jackin’ Freak” remix of Crowdpleaser & St. Plomb’s wonky floor-warmer “1,2,3”. This track manages to bottle the psychopathology of an entire lost weekend in the space of six minutes, starting out quite politely, bugging like a pair of Rodney Dangerfield eyes for a moment, then calming right down—just in time for your neat segue into the low-slung scape of the Daschund mix of “Zukunft”, which echoes and eddies its way into a party mood (in a very mnml way), with lots of splashing granulated textures, and that “sleazy bee” melody retained from the original version. Und (remember “Fox in the Box”—now that was a polarizer) brings her love for out-of-place-vocals and her ear for melody to bear “Today”, coming up with a nice A to B microhouse record, replete with strange intrusions, crowing cocks and toy machines.

This is a great EP that manages to do what remix EPs should—complementing the spirit of the original and introducing new relationships, new proximities that suggest both the source and an inspiration. Hot on the heels of Crowdpleaser & St Plomb’s album and the recent Kate Wax reissue, Mental Groove are (just quietly) shaping up to be one of the truly great labels.

Mental Groove / MG.LTD.016
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


May 29, 2007

Various Artists – Shut Up And Dance! Updated

All too often when I admit my passion for techno music to someone, the image that they conjure up is far from my own perception of it. To them, the word seems to imply a sound of hard and infinitely spiralling industrial loops; in short, music for drugged up idiots with their shirts off. This stigma that seems to stem from the more aggressive side of 90’s techno has proved hard to shake from the everyman’s psyche, and is one of the main reasons why ‘minimal’ has proved such a popular term for DJs, producers, and fans alike as they desperately try to distance themselves from the boorish connotations that many people draw with the genre.

The minimal techno (no matter how “minimal” a lot of these so called tracks are) scene seems to have manufactured an image for itself that suggests an intelligence behind the music and its creation, whilst simultaneously being extremely danceable and able to assert transcendental experiences on the dancefloor through innovative sound design. Some of the more rockist critics may scoff at this supposed ideology, writing it off as yet another excuse for hedonists in their twenties to go out and take as many drugs as they can get hold of, but the same criticism could be levelled to almost any other style of music. Would they say, for example, that punk meant nothing because a high proportion of the audiences were high on speed? Another argument aimed towards techno as a mindless, pedestrian form of art focuses on its simplistic rigidity of structure. Whilst its true that 99 per cent of tracks share uniformity through their 4/4 time signature, it is this theoretical canvas that allows producers to concentrate on the finer details and layers within the music, in addition to maximising the benefits that stem from using patterns and repetition to absorb the listener into the sound.

Electronic evangelists such as myself may even stick their necks out on the line to say that modern techno music is high art at its peak of visceral effectivity; marrying artistry and craftsmanship with sheer functionality to create an end product that is capable of stirring the minds, hearts, and feet of even the most casual observers. Obviously there are exceptions to this sweeping statement, but there are many stables of artists that almost certainly subscribe to this way of thinking. The prime example of this would be Berlin’s Ostgut Ton label; an anomaly in today’s scene as its owners are also the proprietors of the infamous Berghain club. The club itself can even be seen in an artistic light; the unused power station being the perfect structural homestead for the machine music that inhabits its interior, whilst the Panoramabar upstairs hosts a painting by Turner prize winning German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans.

The label’s latest venture, Shut Up And Dance! Updated, sees them consciously attempt to bring techno music closer to being accepted as a form of high art by creating a project that merges the music with a form of dance that has been part of the high art status quo for centuries – ballet. The highly regarded Berlin Staatsballet are the chosen collaborators, and Ostgut have roped in an equally elite cast of producers to provide their soundtrack. Âme, Luciano, NSI (aka Tobias Freund and Max Loderbauer), Sleeparchive, and Luke Slater (as The 7th Plain) are the chosen few that were cherry picked to submit compositions, and all of the artists were given no instructions as to how the music should sound.

NSI open up the body of work with their effort, entitled “Bridge and Tunnel People”, which is possibly a comment on the suburban ballet fans travelling to the industrial locale of Berghain to sample the delights of the city’s vibrant techno scene (read more about the phrase here). The track begins with a section of typical orchestral instruments; a delayed harp, looped string section and a cascading piano, slowly building in intensity until the sounds are enveloped by rumbling bass and chaotic synth stabs that usher in the beat. The fourteen and a half minute piece continues to develop throughout, delicately segueing between and merging the sounds generally associated with both the techno and ballet worlds, and as such, is a perfect opening gambit for what is to come.

After the turbulent synergy of the opener, Sleeparchive contributes what is (as you’d expect from him) the most resoundingly minimalist track of the five; conjuring up a slowed down techno track that works its way from low frequency throbs and buzzes to wonky high frequency synth loops, removing them a minute from the end to give the music a sense of spaciousness that is only amplified by the low tempo. Sleeparchive’s sparse ending provides the perfect ending to flow into the compilation’s centrepiece, Âme’s seventeen minute long cosmic micro-houser “Fiori” (Italian for “flowers”). Foreboding arpeggios and subtle whooshing percussion set the tone, before other elements are slowly introduced to the mix. The rhythmic bassline gives some bounce to the delicate beats, and warm yet melancholic synths are washed over intermittently to provide some relief to the intensity that is only increased by the strengthening of the percussion just before the halfway point. As proved with Carl Craig’s ubiquitous remix of Delia & Gavin on DFA, the 4×4 kick is a a very powerful tool when it’s employed midway through a track, but “Fiori” also demonstrates the efficacy of its removal; reintroducing the introduction’s ingredients now provide respite to the toughened middle section.

Luciano’s contribution, “Drunken Ballet”, injects some much needed humour and light-hearted quirkiness to the aphotic productions that precede it. The usual organic swing that underpins his work is accompanied by an intertwining vocal (simply consisting of a male and female oohing and aahing) that gives it a childlike, yet strangely sexual feel. Things are neatly rounded off with Luke Slater’s “Symphony for the Surrealists”, unconsciously continuing Luciano’s theme of infancy with a lush, ambient introduction accompanied with bleeps and xylophones that bring a child’s music box to mind. As the title suggests, it’s this track that has the most in common with traditional classical music in both structure and aesthetics, the typical orchestra being replaced with ebbing and flowing synthetic sounds. Slater’s use of intermittent percussion, radio static, detached voices, and eerie electronics throughout the thirteen minute epic is astounding, and even though only the most adventurous after-hours DJs will be playing it, it definitely marks itself out as one of the best electronic tracks of the year so far.

At a time of the year where everyone’s looking to individual artists for 2007’s top electronic album, this release definitely shouldn’t be swept under the carpet. It’s certainly very ironic that by collaborating with an organisation that’s as exclusionary as the Staatsballet, Ostgut Ton have created a body of work that will appeal to a much wider range of people than the usual club-based techno album. Whilst it almost certainly won’t be enough to make Berlin’s older ballet crowd journey back to Berghain for one of their usual debauched parties, if it makes a few of the more open minded classicist and rockist listeners think differently about techno, then it’s done its job. One thing’s for sure, it’ll make a lot of electronic music fans very happy indeed.

Ostgut Tonträger / ostgut CD03
[Listen]
[Richard Carnes]


May 28, 2007

Holiday

It’s a public holiday today in both the US and UK, so Beatz By The Pound is taking the day off. Regular service returns tomorrow!


May 27, 2007

The Week In Review: 2007, Week 21

Shackleton – Blood On My Hands [Villalobos Remix] (Skull Disco)
Genre: Minimal/Tech

Peter Chambers: It’s a ridiculous criticism to say that “it’s too long”, or that “it’s not a track” – these are two other undeniable qualities that make this work so exemplary, just as they point out its limitations.

Lindstrom & Solale – Let’s Practise (Feedelity)
Genre: Neo-Disco

Trusme – Brown’s (Still Love Music)
Genre: House, Disco

Nick Sylvester: The lines between jazz and funk and disco and house continue to be blurred into one gloriously incriminating mess.

Sorcerer – Surfing At Midnight (Tirk)
Genre: Neo-Disco, Balearic

Mallory O’Donnell: In the field of down-to-midtempo dreamy instrumentals with beaded fringe, “Surfing at Midnight” is dippy rather than hippy, and (quite happily) just baked rather than psychedelic, dude.

Robag Wruhme Als Rolf Oksen – Bart Eins (Freude Am Tanzen)
Genre: Minimal/Tech

Trentemoller feat. DJ Tom and Vildtand – An Evening With Bobi Bros (Kickin Records)
Genre: Minimal/Deep, Dub

Sneak Thief – G String Orchestra (Klakson)
Genre: Italo, New Wave/Synth

Thinking Out Loud: Physical vs. Digital

Thinking Out Loud developed from a series of open-ended email conversations and ruminations between Beatz staff members. In this article, Michael F. Gill and Peter Chambers discuss the merits of dance music on vinyl and MP3…

Beatzcast #34: Crambe Repetita


May 25, 2007

Beatzcast #34: Crambe Repetita

2007Mixes

Stylus editor Todd Burns presents a mix of electronic music…

Tracklist
01: Shemale – Untitled [buy]
02: Lindstrom and Solale – Let’s Practise [buy]
03: Trusme – Nards [buy]
04: Miguel Migs – So Far [buy]
05: Voom Voom – Sao Verought (Marcus Worgull Mix) [buy]
06: Booka Shade – Karma Car [buy]
07: Baby Ford and Zip – Morning Sir [buy]
08: Minilogue – Inca [buy]
09: Crowdpleaser and St. Plomb – Zukunft (Dachshund Remix) [buy]
10: Tiesto feat. Julie Thompson – Do You Feel Me [buy]
11: Nid and Sancy – Give It Up for Sound [buy]

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