armchair dancefloor 025 marks a change in personnel – ever on-it column founder Chris Power has passed the buck onwards to me, but the format's going to remain very much the same. So expect the usual round-up of the month's best releases in the electronic, dance and experimental spheres, along with a healthy dose of odd anomalies that don't really fit anywhere else. Despite the accepted wisdom that music releases tend to slow down in the run-up to Christmas (opening a gap in the market to be filled with endless compilations of the beige, family-friendly variety, alongside the inevitable detritus sloughed off The X Factor's dry and crusty skin), this month and next are packed with riches, from the final in Demdike Stare's trilogy of 2010 albums and Shackleton's career-defining fabric55 mix to new 12"s from the likes of Pearson Sound, Sigha, Andrea and Ekoplekz.
Opening up this new incarnation of AD is a guest live mix from a producer/DJ we've been big fans of for quite a while now: Ruaridh Law, who operates under the nom de guerre The Village Orchestra, or TVO for his dancefloor-oriented material. His music straddles the foggy borders between noise, cinematic ambience and muscular electro/techno - and frequently is at its most spectacular when those worlds combine, as on last year's beguiling The Starry Wisdom EP (released on the soon-to-be-sadly-defunct Highpoint Lowlife label, with whom we ran an interview and mix earlier this year)
Fresh from launching a new label Broken20 with a new album of his own, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale - reviewed by Chris in AD024 - this live set, recorded in Germany earlier this month, finds him crashing through the vague regions between techno and shattered electro, to knockout effect. And for more from Law, check out his the first half of his recent Broken20 podcast - the second, more beat-driven, half is due to arrive imminently.
Demdike Stare – Voices of Dust [Modern Love]
A late contender for experimental album of the year here. Modern Love duo Demdike Stare have been responsible for some of 2010's darkest, most emotive experimental music, steeped in creaking gothic majesty. Considering their shared background – Miles Whittaker operates as both MLZ and Pendle Coven, Sean Canty digs through crates for the Finders Keepers label – it’s unsurprising that its most appealing characteristic is the way it seamlessly melds the past into the future. For Voices Of Dust, their third and quite possibly finest record this year, they coexist with barely a hint of tension: album highlight ‘Repository Of Light’ sends MLZ’s dub techno chords rippling across a murky landscape of analogue drone. It’s both detached and moving, like examining British Museum artefacts and realising that yes, these were once used by real people.
Both its title and contents feel more explicitly thematic than in the past though, calling to mind the foreboding aura of ancient Egyptian tombs and the decaying curses that protect them. The voodoo stomp of ‘Hashshashin Chant’ and ‘Desert Ascetic’s canned beat recall Shackleton and Gang Gang Dance’s Middle Eastern fixations, but eschews their direct approach in favour of indistinct memory. In that sense you could place Demdike Stare alongside hauntologists like Mordant Music, Broadcast and Ghost Box – taking something of the past and examining it in light of what has occurred since, with visceral intensity.
Wbeeza – Void [Third Ear]
London producer Wbeeza is most closely associated with an idiosyncratic take on house that swings from the sort of heavy jacking material you’d associate with the genre's early years to soft, pillowy slow jams. In that sense he fits perfectly into Third Ear’s label roster, as well as slotting neatly into DJ sets from London’s Circle deep house/dubbage collective. His debut album Void however is of a quieter, more exploratory bent, tripping gracefully through stripped-back hip-hop (‘The World Is Yourz’), intricate, percussive deep house (‘Tru My Veins’, ‘Variations’) and extended breaks of mournful ambience (‘Manual Mode’).
Despite being made over the course of four years with no particular intention in mind, what’s so impressive about Void is how seamless it is. This certainly ain’t anything as simple as a ‘dancefloor’ record, no matter what earlier works like ‘He So Crazy’ might have you imagine. Rather, it’s an album of short sketches (only one track breaks the four minute barrier) that interlock into a summary whole. There’s a tangible three-way interface within Wbeeza’s music that links London’s urban dance culture to that of its predecessors in Chicago and Detroit, making for a curiously dislocated, but strongly coherent listen. There are two or three points, when a hypnotic locked groove dies away too early, that the desire for some more longform tracks takes hold - but when the entire piece is this strong it’s a forgivable flaw.
Rose & Sandy – Play Cat’s Cradle [Moving Furniture]
As well as operating as TVO, this month’s Armchair Dancefloor mix contributor Ruaridh Law has recently recorded as Rose & Sandy alongside fellow Broken20 label head Dave Donnelly (aka Production Unit). Play Cat’s Cradle is the result, and it fits closely with the haunted, thought-provoking side of Law’s oeuvre. The stated aim of Broken20 is to explore music “concerned with decay, erosion, entropy, mistakes and errors, line noise and tape hiss, hum and buzz”. The forty-minute long ambient drift of its single track matches that manifesto perfectly, gradually building and dissolving several times during its length, finding passages of striking and elegiac beauty along the way. One for midwinter nights spent at home alone, or when a David Lynch is all you need, but you’ve dropped your Twin Peaks DVDs behind the sofa and feel too damned lazy to reach down and get them.
Drexciya – Harnessed The Storm (Reissue) [Tresor]
There appears to have been a resurgence of interest in Detroit electro maestros Drexciya lately, with Wire devoting a recent primer to their extensive discography, the Glasgow likes of Rustie and Konx-Om-Pax loudly proclaiming their devotion, and Tresor reissuing some of their classic works on vinyl. Everything the duo recorded was characterised by a feeling of total immersion in their conceptual underwater world, populated by the descendants of slaves thrown overboard during early Atlantic crossings.
Earlier this year their second album Neptune's Lair was re-released, and now it's the turn of 2002's bewitching Harnessed The Storm. The first in the late James Stinson's series of seven 'storm' albums, it captures them exploring a variety of headspaces, ranging from moody and contemplative on 'Soul Of The Sea' to sheer sonic maelstrom on 'Digital Tsunami'. Perhaps reflecting the gradual darkening of their world, with Stinson's worsening health, the overriding atmosphere here is one of melancholy - mirrored in the slow dissolution of the undersea society the duo imagined. But it remains a gorgeous, ever-shifting ocean to become lost within, and as such is thoroughly recommended.
Shackleton – fabric55 [fabric]
Shackleton's music captures the modern world’s mood like little else out there: it's brimming with creeping existential dread, rarely made explicit but constantly waiting in the wings, like fear of death in Delillo's White Noise. Disembodied voices drift through the mix, occasionally snagging on stray strands of percussion or diving beneath particularly viscous gulps of sub-bass, and the drumming itself - harking back to music's primal roots - brings to mind a post-societal future wasteland. So it's a wonder that his live sets are so compulsively danceable, joining common threads between noise, techno and post-punk into a rolling groove that refuses to let up until it simply dies away.
His fabric55 CD is a perfect example, pulling in samples from across his discography along with a healthy dose of new material, and weaving them together into something approaching a summary of his career so far. Like both the Ricardo Villalobos and Omar S contributions to the fabric series it consists of entirely his own material, but unlike those two there are no discernible boundaries between tracks: for maximum effect it needs to be experienced as one unbroken 70 minute stream of sound. Once the mind's locked into his endless, gently modulating pulse, Shackleton offers an experience unrivalled anywhere else in modern dance music - and this mix might just be the finest addition to its series yet.
Joy Orbison – BB/Ladywell [Doldrums]
Braiden – The Alps/Kassem Mosse Refix [Doldrums]
Peter O’Grady’s apparent response to the limelight generated by his luminous singles ‘Hyph Mngo’ and ‘J. Doe’ was to retreat from wider attention, slowing his release schedule and focusing on honing his skills as a DJ. In the year since the first 12” on his Doldrums label, though, there has been a gradually building wave of excitement as to what would arrive next. In keeping with his reluctance to pander to the hype machine, the next two appeared suddenly in shops last week – a pair of new tracks from Orbison himself, and Braiden’s long-awaited, genre-bending ‘The Alps’ – in super-limited, hand-stamped artwork.
Bass music’s shift into house-related territory over the last year or so has been intriguing to witness, largely because it’s seen a whole host of producers largely unfamiliar with its heritage begin making their own mark on its rhythmic formula. The results are recognisable as house music, but made with an intrinsic knowledge and understanding of the UK’s hardcore continuum. Braiden’s compulsively brilliant ‘The Alps’ could quite happily epitomise that whole trend: a headwrecking groove that’s equal parts Chicago, Detroit, London and Berlin, fluid and muscular at once, it’s prone to strafing club crowds like the sonic equivalent of an airstrike. Berlin analogue fetishist Kassem Mosse’s remix pares away its funky edge to leave a barbed spear of a track.
Joy Orbison’s own 12” finds him mining a similar zone (and operating under the cropped alias J.O), one closely aligned with the sort of sounds he’s increasingly revealed himself to be a fan of: Mosse, the Third Ear roster, Kyle Hall and Omar S. Lead track ‘BB’ is pure Detroit house, even down to the wisps of synth and sampled chatter that skate across its surface, and is so far removed from the rest of his output as to sound like a totally different producer. ‘Ladywell’, while remaining locked in a solid house pulse, is more in keeping with his back catalogue, all glassy sung vocals and pads that twinkle like electric harpsichords. Two essential releases, and limited enough that you ought to snap them up as soon as humanly possible.
Pearson Sound – Blanked/Blue Eyes [Hessle Audio]
Over the course of 2010, David Kennedy’s separate Ramadanman and Pearson Sound aliases have gradually merged into a single amorphous entity – a clear indicator that the two sides of his musical personality have further aligned, as he has become increasingly distant from his early dubstep productions. Both ‘Blanked’ and ‘Blue Eyes’ refine the stripped-back, juke-inspired drum machine workouts of ‘Grab Somebody’ and ‘Fall Short’, animating them with sliced vocals and arcs of shocking blue that crackle around the margins like so much electricity.
Kennedy is swiftly becoming one of the most unique and distinctive producers in the UK, his fiendishly complex but deeply groove-oriented percussion and shots of mournful melody adding up to some of the most intrinsically musical dancefloor music to have emerged from the dubstep milieu. It’s this melding of functionality and musicality that makes his tracks such a joy to listen to, and these two are among his best so far, a pair of weird and wired house mutants for the fuzzy early hours. That they’ve come out on his own Hessle Audio imprint (also the home in 2010 of essential sounds from Pangaea, Joe, Elgato and Blawan) simply serves to confirm its well-earned status as label of the year.
Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir – Frictionalism Remixes Part 1 [Rush Hour]
Until the recent release of his utterly essential Frictionalism 1994-2009 boxset, you could be forgiven for being relatively unaware of Detroit’s Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir; compared to his better known contemporaries in the Belleville Three, he’s always gathered a far smaller share of attention. That release set the record straight though, an expansive sweep of tracks that drifted through sliced dancefloor techno, rattling analogue house and emotive mood pieces.
This first remix 12” sees FaltyDL and current darling Space Dimension Controller tackle two of his tracks, with unsurprisingly brilliant results. FaltyDL’s ‘Assimilated’ is even more of a shapeshifter than usual, flitting seamlessly between swung garage, electro patter and swift tempo changes, and is characteristically impossible to mix. SDC’s glorious take on ‘Detroit State Of Mind’ gradually unfurls its core melody over seven drawn-out minutes of astral funk.
Ekoplekz – Stalag Zero/Distended Dub [Punch Drunk]
Bristol analogue fiend Ekoplekz offers a real curveball for the twentieth release on Bristol’s Punch Drunk label: a pair of abstract, dubby soundscapes that occupy the darkened zones between Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and Vladislav Delay. Appropriately released on ultra-limited, hand-stamped vinyl – fitting its elusive, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nature – ‘Distended Dub’ matches its name, swelling outward from a backdrop of static and rotting tape. ‘Stalag Zero’, meanwhile, is as unnerving as it is beautiful, with an oceanic, slightly Drexciyan aesthetic. Bracing stuff, but very much worth the effort.
Headhunter – Chasing Dragons/Lost Prophet [Idle Hands]
Tony Williams' Headhunter guise has recently taken a back seat to the insistent Chicago stylings of his output as Addison Groove. The anthemic 'Footcrab' and upcoming tracks 'Work It' and 'Sexual' in particular combine techno-inspired forward propulsion with the rocky, hypnotic grind of footwork. So it's good to hear two of his finest productions to date on the excellent Idle Hands label. 'Chasing Dragons' rushes from the starting blocks with tightly syncopated, funky-ish snare patterns, but 'Lost Prophet' is the superior cut. All New Age-y synth swells and a tantalising delicacy of touch for music so intensely physical, it finds an unlikely middle ground between Oneohtrix Point Never and Digital Mystikz.
Andrea – Retail Juke/Write Off [Daphne]
Another curveball from a label hardly short of inspiration. Semi-anonymous operators Millie & Andrea’s Daphne imprint has so far put out dreamy dub techno, tough-as-hell junglist transmissions and a couple of wonderfully nostalgic ‘ardkore tributes in the shape of ‘Ever Since You Came Down’ and ‘You Still Got Me’ – and its latest release sees Andrea tackle Chicago juke, with dizzying results. While its staccato 808 pulses and unsettling sense of looped stasis are pure footwork, there’s a distinctly UK bent to ‘Retail Juke’ that lends it a slightly different character to its US cousins. Floating lazily in the background of both are warm, chunky chords that offset the music’s manic pace, leaving them feeling strangely relaxing despite their breakneck nature – at least until ‘Write Off’ suddenly gathers momentum during its second half to a sweaty, spent finish.
Nochexxx – Ritalin Love/Timepiece [Ramp]
Nochexxx’s Ramp debut was actually released a couple of months ago, but its masterfully bizarre take on house barely received any attention when it first emerged, so if this brief write-up encourages more people to investigate then so much the better. ‘Ritalin Love’ sets a slick, fidgety bassline and fucked soul samples against a drum background so reduced it barely exists at all, but ‘Timepiece’ on the flip is the real gem here. Starting life like a stomping old-school house cut, it suddenly breaks to a breezy piano interlude before restarting with twice the intensity. There’s a perverse sense of humour at work in Nochexxx’s strange juxtapositions that lightens both tracks’ sheer darkened intensity, but also elevates them to something far more than the sum of their (admittedly few) parts.
Sigha – Over The Edge/Early Morning Lights [Our Circula Sound]
Due to his Hotflush release history, London producer Sigha is still typically associated with stripped-back, ultra-minimal takes on dubstep – a wholly inaccurate analysis. In fact, over the last year he has moved ever deeper into evocative visions of dark warehouses beneath Berlin. With the first release on his new vinyl-only label he offers a pair of starkly beautiful techno cuts. Marcel Dettmann’s remix of ‘Early Morning Lights’ finds the Berghain resident in unusually subtle – even pretty - form, while on his own ‘Over The Edge’ Sigha sets up a minimalist (as distinct from mnml) techno groove and allows it to run until it simply has nowhere else to go.
Rory Gibb co-edits Always Everything, a ‘zine exploring the hazy borders where genres and styles break down.