With armchair dancefloor 026 we’re ringing in January with a bang, taking a trip through some of the finest releases from the last few weeks of 2010 and looking forward to some new gems from the likes of Demdike Stare, Sandwell District and Emptyset.
Our mix this month arrives as a mystery wrapped inside an enigma, all carefully laid out inside a pretty display case. Dramatic Records’ new Endless House compilation is a beautifully crafted whodunit of a record: ostensibly the product of a short-lived collaborative project in 1973, “the wildly outlandish brainchild of wealthy audiophile/maniac Jiri Kantor”, it gathers together a set of synth-heavy proto-electro tracks that chime perfectly with underground music's recent rediscovery (and love) of all things kosmische.
The question Endless House – which arrives in a suitably convincing package of photos, stories and individual artist profiles – poses: just how far can you push fiction before it becomes, to all intents and purposes, truth? The record’s true provenance stays hidden behind layers of myth, but musically it’s an immersive saga of a compilation (album?) that traces phantom lines between the earliest forms of dance music and its current sprawling state. In that sense it quite happily slots alongside the likes of Mordant Music and the Ghost Box stable, those who craft elaborate webs that blur the lines between appearance and reality.
ADmix015 comes courtesy of the wildly inventive mind of Endless House’s apparent creator, Jiri Kantor. In the label’s words: "Taken from the final evening of Endless House's brief history, this live mix represents not only a rare concession to the DJ format (Kantor's preference was for live performance), but also a rare document of the founder's only ever performance at the club. Kantor is, by his own admission, "no disc-jockey", but amidst the clumsy mixing is an enthralling insight into his own personal aesthetic world. From the new-age cosmic rock of ‘Between’ to the space-echoing warbles of Nico (‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’) Kantor weaves his own club's anthems – most notably Rasmus Folk's ‘Coupe’ - into the most grandiose of lineages.
"In the end, as only Endless House knew how, we are left with near-choreographed tragedy. Closing with his (apparently) self-produced ‘Why Did It Happen So Fast?’, Kantor's is an elegaic scream into the outermost cosmos...
"Perhaps he just wanted to be a rockstar."
Kowton – Drunk On Sunday/She Don’t Jack [Idle Hands]
Bristol’s Idle Hands imprint (also soon to be shop) looks set to burn up the ether this year with an upcoming stream of fantastic, elastic house and techno releases from the likes of Kevin McPhee and Szare. For the moment, though, we’ll just have to content ourselves with this I suppose – the label's best 12” so far, from master of understatement Kowton. For someone with only a handful of releases to his name, his tracks are staggeringly well composed, as though he’s instinctively able to pare his music back to its absolute bare essentials: ‘Drunk On Sunday’ is capable of leveling dancefloors despite consisting of little other than three swung layers of percussion and an ominous fog of sub. ‘She Don’t Jack’, meanwhile, is the literal definition of a banger. As in, it bangs. Hard. Low-end thudding like an underwater mine detonating just inches from your head.
Sandwell District – Feed Forward [Sandwell District]
Where techno is concerned, anonymity doesn’t merely assist the listener in focusing on music above personality. It’s a mode of operation that’s faithful to the music’s essence, its natural environment, where tracks are experienced as an unbroken stream of sound, nigh on impossible to distinguish from one another. Its roots obviously lie in shadowy collectives like Underground Resistance and Basic Channel, but for modern labels like Horizontal Ground, Frozen Border and Daphne it also operates as a form of resistance against the net’s all pervasive information assault.
The same is essentially true of Sandwell District. Although their cover has gradually lifted, music is still their primary method of communication. Their ultra-limited, already-sold-out-everywhere-you-look debut album Feed Forward, as well as containing some of their strongest material to date, cements the notion of Sandwell as a flexible, evolutionary entity. Considering it numbers several contributors, it also happens to be an impressively coherent listen, exploring a heavily industrial trade-off between hope and sheer dread - both hang off highlight ‘Falling The Same Way’ like vines off a dead tree, and cascade like oil through the eyes-down drive of ‘Speed + Sound (Endless)’. A pair of ambient tracks on an accompanying 7”, meanwhile, could act as either starter or dessert, depending on your mood; after the meal you feel chewed up and spat out, but utterly elated.
James Ferraro – Night Dolls With Hairspray [Olde English Spelling Bee] Monopoly Child Star Searchers – Bamboo For Two [Olde English Spelling Bee]
Let’s be honest: most chillwave was fucking vapid, right? Mushy, amorphous, overly polite fluff that glossed over all the good bits of the smudged, out-of-focus approach pioneered by people like Ariel Pink and The Skaters in favour of lightweight emphasis on nostalgia. Still, it’s lucky that the reverse end of the spectrum that spawned it still acts as home to some seriously innovative musicians – none more consistent than those that call the Olde English Spelling Bee label home, with James Ferraro and his fellow Skater Spencer Clark acting as oft-reluctant poster boys.
Their output in 2010 was typically prolific, culminating with a pair of their finest works so far arriving right at the end of the year. Ferraro’s Night Dolls With Hairspray is something of a curveball for those expecting the usual hypnagogic-style jams. It’s simultaneously his trashiest, most demented and poppiest yet, hijcking the hypersexualised mind of a teenager and taking a fluorescent tryst through the darker side of the modern world’s obsession with youth. As ever, he sounds both elated and disgusted at what he finds, hitting his usual unique balance of celebration and criticism on songs – and they are songs, rather than boundless tracks – like the thrashy gross-out ‘Leather High School’ and the firey, tempo-melting ‘Killer Nerd’. It’s seriously addictive stuff, like pop punk run through Photoshop then Xerox’d to hell and back.
Clark’s Bamboo For Two, alongside Ferraro and others, couldn’t be more different. A far less immediate listen, it’s all dense tropical percussion bathed in murk, like the strains of chaotic boat party picked up while reef diving just beneath. The latent connection between dancefloor headspaces and the deep brain massage of OESB-style sounds is becoming ever more obvious as the boundaries become thinner: I swear you could get a techno crowd moving to opener ‘A Coconut's Shadow Thrown Across The Stem Of A Rose’, even if it took a little while for their spaced faces to adjust.
Steffi – Yours & Mine [Ostgut Ton]
One of the great self-perpetuated myths about getting wrecked is the notion that it’s possible to do so gracefully. The truth inevitably falls around the exact opposite end of the spectrum. Even if your own perception places you somewhere within the bracket of ‘attractively, elegantly wasted’, it’s probably safe to say those around you still see a sweaty, wild-eyed mess. And the music itself… Hell, the following day you’ve probably managed to convince yourself the whole affair sounded like the slinky, delicate patter of Steffi’s debut album, when in actual fact it was closer to the raw chaos of Moodymann or Omar-S.
Yours & Mine is a good approximation of what it might sound like to be totally lost on a night out, but look and feel absolutely beautiful while doing so. Opener ‘Lilo’ sets lush pads rising above a percussive frame so rigid it’s funky, and album highlight ‘Yours’ is a piece of soulful vocal house beamed like manna from heaven. Elsewhere ‘Manic Moods’ fits its name, driving forward with impressively detached zeal, and slo-mo closer ‘Moving Lips’ fades to nothing, leaving you time to peel the fragments of adrenalised brain off the walls of Panoramabar before a final salvo levels the place.
ISVOLT – A Disaro Witch House Compilation [Robot Elephant]
It’s still hard to know quite what to make of the whole ‘witch house’ phenomenon. With oft-aped genre originators Salem’s debut pretty much saying everything the entire genre needed to say (just don’t mention the live shows), where do its main practitioners go now? The ISVOLT compilation goes some way towards answering that question, with the doomy, chopped ‘n’ screwed thrum of †‡†’s ‘Misery Walk’ opening proceedings with admirable force, and Fostercare’s ‘Cold Light’ so chilly it’s practically sub-zero. It’s difficult to tell at this point whether the genre as a whole can transcend its focus on atmosphere above all else, and back up the bravado with real heft and substance, but for the moment ISVOLT captures a sweet, if sometimes frustratingly opaque, snapshot in time.
Reel by Real – 20 Years of Surkit: A Retrospective [Artless]
In the wake of a renewed interest in Detroit house and techno, there has been a fun upwelling in the number of out-of-print records being reissued. Rush Hour’s been responsible for some particularly good ‘uns (Rick Wilhite’s Soul Edge 12” the one that immediately springs to mind, alongside Shake’s quite spectacular Frictionalism boxset) but this newie on Artless, a look back at Reel by Real’s ‘Surkit’, is welcome indeed. An absolute classic of early Detroit techno, its tightly pivoting synth motif is pure Motor City retrofuturism, the soundtrack to an imagined Blade Runner-esque future (sampled for LTJ Bukem’s ambient jungle classic ‘Atlantis’, it’s also solid evidence of just how influential Detroit was on the early waves of UK bass and soundsystem music).
Elsewhere on the six-tracker, ‘Sundog’ is awkward and percussive a la Model 500’s electro-tinged side, and Shake collaboration ‘Serene’ rides on a beautifully melancholy ocean of synthetic strings. More than anything, the whole package makes you question just how many other slices of Detroit history have all but disappeared from wider awareness. There’s probably one hell of an archive out there, somewhere.
Dro Carey – Venus Knock EP [Trilogy Tapes]
Expect big things from Sydney’s Dro Carey this year. He’s operating in a freeform middle ground where deliberately obscured angular fuzz meets the overwhelming density of dubstep and LA’s beats scene (and their respective offspring). This debut on Trilogy Tapes is nigh on sold out everywhere already, so grab it if you come across it – as well as being a bit of a collectible it’s also a wonderfully corrosive slab of post-R’n’B nastiness. The title track assaults stereo speakers like wave upon wave of swarming wasps, refusing to let up until it’s battered both body and brain into stung submission, and ‘Dead Keys’ is all acerbic industrial grind and vocals like busted strobes. Imagine James Blake if he’d started with ‘Air & Lack Thereof' but then proceeded to extract all its air and light to leave a darkened, but strangely pop-savvy, vacuum.
Other records armchair dancefloor is currently loving…
Last year saw a rush of dread to the surface of electronic and experimental music, the likes of which had rarely been heard since the days of avant-funk. Demdike Stare’s three vinyl-only records were all essential components in 2010’s general downcast mood – and this month are issued on CD with extra bits as Tryptych [Modern Love]. It’s hard to express quite how much you need this in your life: Liberation Through Hearing’s carefully sampled, fathomless drones are particularly appropriate for a chill January, and the dubbed-out techno spine that runs through the heart of third disc Voices Of Dust lends it a prickly, defensive energy but a warm analogue heart.
On the Bristol side, October’s Vanamonde EP [Misericord] captures the increasingly house-leaning producer in fucked-up disco mode, shot through with sleaze on the sultry, voyeuristic ‘Bree Daniels’, and labelmates Emptyset’s Altogether Lost [CLR] features UR’s Cornelius Harris on a bracing slab of ultra-distilled spoken-word techno. Berlin’s Kassem Mosse is on an absolute roll right now, with the disintegrating loops of EP5 [Kinda Soul] some of the finest material he’s put out to date. You can practically hear it decay as it’s playing. And in UK-styled bass, the psychedelic ripples of Jay Weed’s mutant funky banger ‘Prism’ [502 Recordings] further mine the common territory between hypnagogic murk and sub-heavy house, and an anonymous 12” on the Objekt label is proof of dubstep’s continued vitality, both tracks landing somewhere between Mystikz-style reductionism and Addison Groove’s drum machine propulsion.
Header photo by Nico Hogg.