Through a combination of luckyish breaks – getting his first 12-inch singles heard and spun by the right people – and, more pertinently, being at the top of his game from the get go, Birmingham-based techno don Anthony ‘Surgeon’ Child has been a respected and revered figure in techno since he emerged in 1995. Until relatively recently, though, if you wanted your ears to bear witness to the eclectic strands of machine-tooled tuffness that inspired Surgeon’s DJ sets, you’d have to – well, go and see one of his sets. On disc he’s a producer, in the club he’s a DJ: that was the message seemingly imparted here, until Warp released the terrific, 32-track This Is For You Shits in 2007 – Monolake to Whitehouse to The Bug, delivered with briskness and fluidity. The Fabric series, still turning out superlative mix CDs whilst the related nightclub appears to be on its financial arse, makes Surgeon its latest guest of honour, and he thanks them with a 72-minute rinseout of quality.
Many of the 30 tracks which make up Fabric 53 reflect Surgeon’s increasingly bearish embrace of dubstep – specifically, the sort of dubstep that draws influence from the stark, dystopian side of European and Detroitian techno (quite possibly including Surgeon himself). After the introductory track – a brief field recording of a subway station in Tokyo – we begin with Scuba, a consistently shining example of dubstep-not-dubstep for some five years now thanks to his Hotflush releases. Elsewhere in the mix, Reeko, Ital Tek, Subeena, Greena and Gatekeeper all appear, as well as an Al Tourettes & Appleblim rerub of ‘A Speaks To X’ by Planetary Assault Systems, wherein the Bristolian twosome open up the track’s club-ready techno thump and sew some uneasy towerblock bass inside.
While Surgeon is hardly the first DJ from techno-ish areas to realise that there was a certain commonality of vision between this new wave of British bass music, and that of post-rave techno, he’s been highly proactive in exploiting the links in his mixes. So Marco Bernardi’s polished European techno is a surprisingly good fit with Instra:mental’s ‘Forbidden’, which finds the drum’n’bass duo continuing their shuffle away from the genre into spacey, kickdrum-heavy dubstep. Ital Tek’s ‘Spectrum Falls’ makes good with gloomy coldwave synths and flittery harpsichord, which Surgeon cannily pits against his own, rather more austere ‘Klonk Part 1 (Drums Only)’. ‘Blip’ by Gatekeeper, another Bristolian dubstepper, morphs into British techno producers Mark Broom and James Ruskin’s ‘No Time Soon’ so sleekly as to cause one of those ‘why do we even have genres anyway?’ thoughtbubbles.
Of course, sometimes all you want from a Surgeon set is a densely weaved tapestry of hard, military drums and alien correspondence beeps. Despite his own personal evolution, Child is still more than OK to deliver track after track of techno ambrosia. Mark Broom and James Ruskin combine once again for ‘Hostage’, a robust bullet train through Jeff Mills country (this being a favoured location of Ruskin, particuarly); it feeds into Stephen Brown’s ‘Stress Free’, which ‘fades in quietly’ as John Peel used to say, and develops, over five and three-quarter minutes (Fabric 53’s longest track), into an expansive, almost tech-trancey hypnofest.
Circa 2010, Surgeon’s own releases are far less frequent than was the case in the Nineties, when there’d be a new 12-inch of his every other month or so. Both the tracks from his one single so far this year appear on this mix, and both are fairly cooking. ‘Compliance Momentum’, which is crossbred with surly Berlin techno bangers Ancient Methods, combines unremitting martial battery with harsh synthesised tones such as you might find in the power electronics Child has a longstanding jones for. ‘The Crawling Frog Is Torn And Smiles’ (me neither) is more itchily ambient, unsettling you in lieu of clubbing you over the head, but still most effective.
Assuming you approve of Surgeon’s latter-day DJing efforts to operate outside of the genre he’s prominently been associated with, there’s little to dislike about Fabric 53. The track selection is judicious, the mix transitions instinctive and effective; almost every track is no more than a year or two old, if that, and some might conceivably have preferred if it Child had reached back into his presumably vast wealth of electronic music assembled over the last twentysomething years. He’s recently donated podcast mixes to FACT and Resident Advisor where he does just this, in fact; that wasn’t what he felt like doing for Fabric, though, and his career over the last 15 years has taken him far beyond the point where he ought to worry about whether you or anyone else considers him a neophyte or a techno turncoat.
7Noel Gardner's Score