The Modern Library is an attempt to chart the various odysseys and oddities in House, Techno and the bits that skirt between it, relatively irrespective of timescale. Running parallel will be an on-going mixtape series on tumblr built to promote artists I enjoy, and who are picked based on their ability to instil a distinct personality to the concept, providing a unique insight into their mind and their sound.
Dub Techno in 2012.
Dub Techno - To my eyes, a maligned quantity in the last few years. The genre is pretty well wrung out now, shackled down by its long history and tropes so often revisited. In Basic Channel, and later with Chain Reaction, Mark Ernestus and Moris Von Oswald drew up the blueprint and refined it quickly and elegantly. Between their own work and their peers, they carved out something simultaneously cold and beautiful, often bridging gaps between the club and home listening with slices of ambient intersection and field recording. The sound was so well realised that, for many, it’s been a struggle to find something to say since, though it’s not stopped plenty of attempts with the same limited palette recycled over and over again. The trend for labels to sate the anorak-wearing crowd that gathers round Discogs with an urge to collect or flip records for profit hasn’t helped either, the 'anonymous limited' template proving an inexplicable draw time and time again (I’ll admit I’ve felt the pang of shame from being stung by some hyped up, low-print, by the numbers record built for this fanbase at least a couple of times). Drowning slightly in a sea of white labels that all sound pretty similar, it’s been a bit turgid in the last few years.
Since the reissue of Porter Ricks Biokinetics this year I’ve found myself reengaging though, pointed forward by a proof of how good this stuff can sound when the concept is cut clearly. Being so used to that ‘Basic Channel sound’, the pleasure of Biokinetics was the reminder of how important a different slant can be - that hypnotic submerged influence on the sound design really did create something quite special. It’s led me to discern glimmers of a fresh take elsewhere - hence the breakdown of a few of them here. Perhaps some of the stuff I’ve highlighted doesn't bring quote-unquote ‘Dub Techno’ to mind on first impression. Someone said to me the other day that they didn’t really consider Voices From the Lake to be dub. But maybe that’s the point;trying to move away from the same sound repeated ad nauseam, appreciative of the history but not so reverent as to be afraid of slotting it into a new framework or playing about with it.
The stuff coming from Margus Love is a neat encapsulation of this - whether intentional or not, outside influences seeps into his dub work as 1DERL&. The producer from Talinn otherwise works as L-OW creating heavy composites somewhere between Dubstep and that nebulous space sometimes referred to as ‘bass music’, and his forays in Techno on his Reflections LP reveal that influence. Tracks like ‘Vaporized’ are built of classic Berlin swirl in the body, but cut through every so often with a kickdrum harshly twisted into something approaching Dubstep. Or with ‘Untitled1’, where the Basic Channel pulses curl and reverberate over a percolating wobble that coats the bottom. This isn’t an album that drags itself out of a lot of the tropes of the genre, but there’s an attractively subtle ‘happening’ between the cold worlds of deep Techno and some of those more UK rooted sounds here. Interesting to note it’s by a guy from Estonia making it happen too.
I’ve always thought of Manchester label Frozen Border as something approximating a Dub Techno label, cloaked metallic clinks and dour synth stabs often squeezed into the minimalist rolling framework they’ve pioneered. On their recent Minutes In Ice compilation it comes to the fore in the inky depths of Funksta’s ‘The Groover’ or in the distant clicks and chimes coming in and out of focus on AnD’s ‘In Just A Small Moment’. Out of everything though, I keep finding myself coming back for the Horizontal Ground remix of Skirt’s ‘Colider’: echoes bounce off foundry walls, spectral breaths are sighed, the clang of scaffolding dropped onto concrete in the distance. It’s more portentously industrial than Basic Channel ever was, and vital proof that dub can be woven into something rich and dynamic.
Speaking of industrial - Mesmer, the first full length from Kareem in 7 years is a bloody terrifying (and excellent) venture into that cold realm. I haven’t yet had the time to properly sit down and digest all its detail but I will say it’s some of the craftiest techno noir I’ve heard in a while. The first two feature-length tracks will likely garner the most attention with their slow individual unfoldings into looming mechanical bliss but I get the feeling it's the little touches like the ferrous and skin-crawling tape loops that squirm over Mesmeric that will provide the lasting power with me. Whilst not exactly 'dub', his work on a new twelve inch with Ancient Methods looks promising too, an exercise in turning the other’s music as jet black and evil as possible. Well worth a listen to either on an overcast day.
The many successes of the recent Voices From the Lake album have been fairly well documented (see the recent excitable thread on the Community page) but it really does deserve another mention. The microtonal changes in ebb and flow, subtlety and overall sound design by Donato Dozzy and Neel creates something stunningly fluid; less of an album so much as a long form composition that sucks you in and deposits you back out again an hour later. It’s an absorbing experience for body and mind, and trance inducing in much the same way that Biokinetics is - they both use that same allegory of water and of being submerged, a strange feeling of inertia where states are altered and sound travels differently. Abdulla Rashim, who recently released his Weldiya EP on Prologue (the same label as VFTL) creates a similar sensation in his music and mixes. Fathoms deep techno where time and space become strangely malleable. It’s uncannily similarly to a lot of drone music (it’s hard to refer to ‘Weldiya 3’ as anything else as its beatless loops and pads create something so alien and alluring) where the repetitious nature of the music builds into waves that wash over you. It’s a really beguiling sound and I’m interested to see if and how it’s furthered. The forthcoming Dino Sabatini album from the same label suggests it might take a similar approach.
Bastion of interesting approaches to Techno Stroboscopic Artefacts and their continually inspired Stellate series continue to invigorate life into the genre as they gravitate towards the outer edges. Through the ‘4 artists, 2 tracks each’ rule, artists like Roll The Dice, Kangding Ray, Xhin, Silent Servant and Dadub have each brought work that succinctly defines and challenges their own sound and the cluster of genres they work in. I’m particularly drawn to ‘Endless’ and ‘Refraction’ by Dadub on Stellate 2, their dub-turned-ambience shines radiance outward like an opal held up to the sun and provides a sumptuous opening before the spiral down into the vortex, courtesy of Silent Servant & Luis Farfan’s clash of post-punk with Dub Techno and Roll The Dice’s Faustian pact with a piano. All have a deep pulse with relative lack of a beat, pushed instead by oscillating synths and an elusive dynamic energy. Juan Mendez is worthy of a second mention for his debut Silent Servant LP under Hospital Productions, going from the samples I’ve heard it seems to build on ideas presented within this series to create something pretty special.
Rod Modell is by now almost as synonymous with Dub Techno as it gets through DeepChord and Echospace. The exploratory field recordings and carefully embroidered work he produces are complex and evocative, often referred to in the same breath as Maurizio. Whilst nothing has yet come close to ‘07’s The Coldest Season on Modern Love for me for sheer elegance and storytelling, the latest DeepChord LP Sommer is a pretty lovely thing. Warm like something left out to soak up heat from the sun, it’s sculpted from layers of recordings from a beach setting into short inviting tracks that blend into one another- more like a sunset mix than an album. Its fab to hear a turn of pace like this, to hear Dub Techno purpose built to inhabit spaces you wouldn’t immediately draw up for it.
Considering the revival old-school electro is under I’m surprised to have not heard too much of its static zip apposed with Techno. Having touched on both in the past, Spanish label Area 51 start to connect the dots with Cydonia, dealing out two wonderfully dilapidated tracks from Sowing Paranoia. Perhaps on their own they wouldn’t sound so deep and murky, but the preceding two technically classical dub tracks from DJ F lead the synths working away in ‘Martians Chanel’ and ‘Cydonia’ to sound as though they’re shrouding the downbeats in luminescent echo and a gloomy kind of reverb. Definitely something to check out if you’ve been digging Frak, Gesloten Cirkel or some of the wonkier output of Sex Tags.
Pechorin, the debut album from René Audiard (Soren Jahan to his parents) is the dub album I keep coming back to. Like the releases he’s co-produced with John Barera as B-Tracks, it’s stuffed to the gills with ideas and always with an eye cast over to the dancefloor. The base palette is cut from the Dub Techno cloth but from there, each track travels outward in its own direction. Three minutes into 'Nowa Huta', great blasts of caterwauling synth fire out to rattle your teaspoons, 'Landscape' rolls out delayed reggae jabs that eventually coalesce into breakdown, 'Memory' goes in heavy with the sub and tumultuous swerves and swipes that drive the beat off the rails with centrifugal force every now and then. Tracks blossom midway through and bring together every separate piece into an undulating groove, helped by a mentality to drum patterns that leans closest to House music. It’s compelling and refreshing to see (like with some other picks here) just how infectious and ‘dancey’ this stuff can be just as it enthrals. Through the sum of its parts it’s an incredibly moreish album and one I'd recommend first and foremost.
Based how much I’ve enjoyed and returned to Pechorin, Soren seemed the perfect choice to open the Modern Library mix series, both to introduce his sound as René and to showcase the pleasures of Dub Techno in a long-form session. He’s provided a mesmeric vinyl-only mix that kicks things off wonderfully. It’s worth just letting the music do the talking here, though I will say to look out for his album's title track at the end - I chose not to mention it above simply because I don’t want to spoil how wonderfully immersive it is. Thanks to Soren for the mix (and Kamal in Ithaca for his turntables).
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