Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Vintage Year for Techno

While rummaging around in The White Noise Revisited cellar the other day, I came across a bottle of the 1993 vintage and upon uncorking it and inhaling, my nose was assaulted by the heady, metallic aromas of techno. Yes indeed my music-loving hombres, 1993 was a brilliant year for the techno arts. I can support this statement with four words – Black Dog Productions' ‘Bytes’, and back it up further with three more: Orbital’s ‘Brown Album’. However, I’m going to focus on three less vaunted long players to really add weight to the proclamation.

F.U.S.E. - Substance Abuse
F.U.S.E. - Dimension Intrusion

‘Dimension Intrusion’ was the fifth in the series of ‘Artificial Intelligence’ albums released on Warp during the early 1990s. Recorded by Richie Hawtin under his F.U.S.E. (Further Underground Sound Experiments) moniker, it was actually released on Plus 8 before Warp licensed it. I’m sure my brother will crawl down the wires and bite my ears off for making this statement, but I actually think ‘Dimension Intrusion’ is Hawtin’s best album - far superior to his efforts as Plastikman. It contains some of his finest banging acid techno (‘F.U.’ and ‘Substance Abuse’), alongside deft moments of sparkling electronica like the title track and ‘A New Day’, which were more representative of the ‘AI’ sound Warp were championing. ‘Slac’ is the slo-mo jackin’ acid oft repeated under the Plastikman guise, and the epic ‘Theychx’, which features speech samples from George Lucas' 1971 debut movie THX 1138, is an exercise in understated bleepy ambient wonder. ‘Mantrax’ is another gem, a driving, acidic groover with soft percussion and harmonic chords. But it’s ‘Substance Abuse’ that is the standout. It’s an absolute monster – like the doom-mongering older brother of Joey Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash’, with an equally thunderous bassline, but replacing the euphoric "Ecstasy!" chant with the cautionary "Overdose!". I wouldn’t say ‘Dimension Intrusion’ is underrated, as I know lots of people who, umm, rate it, but it is often overlooked, especially in favour of the other albums in the ‘AI’ series. Dig it out or hunt it down - it’s a blinder, make no mistake.

Buy F.U.S.E. 'Dimension Intrusion' from Bleep
F.U.S.E. discography
Plastikman website

Luke Slater - Mauve Violin
Luke Slater - Colonian Space Unexplored

Before Peacefrog soundtracked adverts for televisions with folksy ramblings, they used to release albums like Luke Slater's brutal ‘X-Tront Vol. 2’; the aural equivalent of being thumped to death by a man with fists made of hammers. Rough, raw and heavy on the drums, the nine tracks present on the CD (there was a limited vinyl release that included an exclusive ambient 12”) don’t bother with any subtleties. My wife was in the room when I was burning this CD onto my computer and she expressed her objection to this sort of music, proclaiming it the sort of “male techno bollocks” that used to ruin her night when it was played at raves back in the day. It’s hard to disagree with this assessment, but I have to confess my undying love for this sort of soulless, pounding death-by-techno madness. Of course, Mr Slater has demonstrated a fine ear for melody over the years, recording under various guises, but on the ‘X-Tront’ series melody wasn’t really on his agenda, with the exception of the odd tune in ten. ‘Mauve Violin’ sounds like it could be hippy new-age nonsense, but it’s verging on the gabba. The only accompaniment to the distorted drums and percussion is what sounds like a computer malfunctioning and some ear-shredding bleeps. ‘Colonian Space Unexplored’, a co-write with early collaborator Alan Sage, is slightly more refined and funky, like electro on steroids – all clattering percussion and manipulated drum noise.

Search eBay for 'X-Tront Vol. 2'
Luke Slater discography
Luke Slater website

Hardfloor - Lost In The Silver Box
Hardfloor - Trancescript

The German duo of Oliver Bondzio and Ramon Zenker released their debut album, ‘TB Resuscitation’ in 1993, following the success of the truly immense and epoch-making single ‘Acperience 1’ with which they made their name. Dedicated to the inventor of the Roland TB 303, each track on the album followed a fairly rigid blueprint, wringing every last drop of life out of the device, which was originally marketed to guitarists for bass accompaniment while practicing alone. ‘TB Resuscitation’ is really a retro acid house record, a nod back to 1987 when the likes of Phuture and DJ Pierre were pioneering the acid sound. Bondzio and Zenker’s major accomplishment was managing to inject their repetitive, one-dimensional music with gallons of soul, humour and creativity, causing sensations in the listener ranging from madness to sheer euphoria. They probably worked in an atmosphere akin to being in intensive care – a small room, surrounded by bleeping boxes, yet somehow emerged with their sanity intact, enjoying a lengthy career in the industry that is still flourishing today. ‘TB Resuscitation’ featured the ubiquitous ‘Acperience’, but also tracks like album opener ‘Lost in the Silver Box’, which is a more severe take on their craft, with thumping drums and the 303 tweaked to make sounds ranging from birds tweeting to a lion gargling gazelle guts. ‘Trancescript’ is a funkier effort, following the usual pattern of building to a crescendo with a series of layered melodic acid lines. It should only work in a club environment, but there is something about the way they construct their songs that makes them just as suitable for home listening. The great thing about the music is that repeated listening reveals different patterns and sounds. The fact that it can also cause the onset of insanity is by the by. Yes, it’s formulaic but it’s a formula that works, and ‘TB Resuscitation’ is an absolute classic.

Search eBay for 'TB Resuscitation'
Hardfloor discography
Hardfloor website


Thursday, October 25, 2007


Spirea X - Chlorine Dream

One of the things I like about this blog is the fact that it gives me the chance to sing the praises of bands that I feel never got the requisite amount of love they deserved at the time. Spirea X are one such band. They were signed to 4AD and fronted by Jim Beattie, a former member of Primal Scream responsible for their early 1960s jingle-jangle sound and booted out of the band when they went all leather-clad rawk first time around. The name Spirea X was lifted from a song by the Scream from Beattie’s time in the band; the b-side to the 1986 single ‘Crystal Crescent’, which also featured ‘Velocity Girl’, considered by many to be the defining C86 track.

‘Chlorine Dream’ by Spirea X is a classic lost single from 1991. Opening with a chiming guitar riff reminiscent of the Byrds, the song is a fabulous amalgamation of 1960s psychedelia, dream pop and shoegazer guitars, all underpinned by a danceable backing track of pulsing bass and baggy beats. I can remember seeing Spirea X play it live on ‘Snub TV’*, BBC Two’s yoof music show of the early 90s, and going absolutely crazy about it. From the almost hymn-like quality of the dual vocals of Beattie and Judith Boyle, to the uplifting middle 8, complete with euphoric trumpets, and the heavy bass drums at the conclusion, reminiscent of the legendary Hal Blaine’s drums from Paul Simon‘s ‘The Boxer’.

Spirea X only recorded one album – ‘Fireblade Skies’ – also released in 1991, which featured an extended version of ‘Chlorine Dream’. For a band who seemed to have everything going for them – signed to 4AD, classic songwriting, hip sound – it never really happened. The album flopped and Beattie disbanded the group and left 4AD shortly after. He went on to form Adventures in Stereo with Boyle, but is currently missing in action. Try and pick up the album from eBay if you can – it really is worth your time and love.

* I had a 3 hour video packed full of stuff I’d recorded from Snub TV, which a friend accidentally taped over with ‘Enter the Dragon’. I’m still gutted.

Search eBay for Spirea X
Spirea X on the 4AD website
Spirea X discography
Adventures in Stereo at twee.net
Read about Snub TV


Monday, October 22, 2007

Grizzled Rave Vet Sent to Nu-Rave Heaven/Hell

Nic Nell - It's A Trance Off

I really don’t know what to make of this. It’s either a work of pure, unadulterated genius, or one of the most excruciatingly awful pieces of music my ears have ever been subjected to. Let’s get one thing straight – listening to ‘It’s a Trance Off’ makes me feel old. Decrepit even. If I was to hear this song emanating from my teenage kid’s bedroom, I would feel compelled to bang on the door and tell them to turn the shit down, or preferably off, and listen to some proper music, like Ride or Aphex Twin. I always thought I’d be a Cool Dad, but I’ll probably conform to type in the end. But this is a good thing. I’m 34 years old and I don’t suppose Nic Nell is making music with people like me in mind. Nope, this is PROPER nu-rave – probably the first nu-rave song I’ve heard that actually delivers on the RAVE. This is for glowstick-wielding teenagers; Klaxons fans, clad from head to foot in luminous clothing with large, plastic sunglasses, skinny jeans and household ornaments suspended on chains around their necks. The kids who are swallowing shitty £3 eccys like they’re Smarties and going fucking bug-eyed loony with their big-haired chums at underground, underage parties all over the country. It definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY isn’t for me…

Having said that… it’s growing on me. I can’t stop listening to it. Maybe I’ve gone mad. It’s infectious, joyous music. It’s like N-Trance crossed with At The Drive In and it’s properly bonkers. Yeah, Bonkers, like the happy hardore rave phenomenon that is still going strong. Mental cartoon techno, played at 180bpm plus by the likes of Sharkey, Hixxy and Dougal. Nic Nell has lovingly replicated the sounds of this movement – the Nintendo bleeps, rushy synths and thudding snares – and laid his own distinctive emo-lite vocal over the top. And I know that if I wasn’t a grizzled rave veteran (Castlemorton was my ‘Nam), I’d be whipping off my top, paunch an’ all, and larging it like it was my last day on earth each time this song is played on the radio, which will probably be every 10 minutes in the not too distant future. I liked Rozalla, so why can’t I like Nic Nell? He iz da FuTuRe, rite? He is going to rule the world one day and there’s nothing that me and all my miserable, misanthropic mates can do about it.

In summary then – excruciating genius.

Nic Nell My Space


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

All I Need is Cigarettes and Sonic Noise

My Bloody Valentine - Cigarette In Your Bed
My Bloody Valentine - You Made Me Realise (Live in Vancouver)

Smoking in bed is a filthy habit. Dangerous too. Still, I’ve laughed in the face of danger and indulged. When you're a smoker you don't really question the places where you smoke, you just light up when the mood takes you. I fondly remember sharing cigarettes in bed with once-significant others and my true love; wondrous post-coital ciggies, body and soul still humming with joy, and Nick O'Teen ramping up the feel-good hit. Sometimes even a fag wasn't enough. "Woke up - skinned up!", I wrote to my brother after my first morning in Halls of Residence when I'd just left home. The exclamation mark suggests glee, like I'd achieved something meaningful...

...something meaningful, like my love for Bilinda Butcher. Ahhhh, Bilinda, with an 'i'. Bilinda with the eyes. I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking I was in love with her. Of course it was just another silly, teenage crush that was always doomed to be unrequited. But when you've stood in a room watching My Bloody Valentine play live, and witnessed an audience leaving in their droves because the volume is steadily increasing to ear-drum rupturing levels as the band hold steady on that single chord from 'You Made Me Realise', and Bilinda’s just standing there, nonchalant, looking like she's waiting for the bus rather than a sonic noise terrorist driving people insane through distortion. Then you know you're not dealing with any ordinary girl. Listen to her sing, cooing sweet nothings that mask threats of violence - "Scratching your eyes out, with a smile" - then, gloriously detached on the sweet 'doo doo doo' outro of the song.

I'm a reformed smoker now and I'm in love with a real person. I don't really smoke at all, let alone in bed. These days I'm far more interested in the really important things, like how fucking great the drums are on 'Cigarette in Your Bed'. That trebly, almost drum machine sounding quality, with fantastic rapid fills from Colm O'Ciosoig. And before Trading Standards get on my case, let's actually revisit some white noise, with the aforementioned 17-minute live version of 'You Made Me Realise'. Nearly 20 years on, still nobody does it quite like them.

Buy My Bloody Valentine from Amazon
My Bloody Valentine fansite
My Bloody Valentine on Wikipedia


Friday, October 12, 2007

Desperately, gormlessly

My Jealous God - Everything About You (The Knowledge - Mixed by A Guy Called Gerald)

I have always been fiercely protective of the baggy / indie-dance scene of the late 80s / early 90s. I know it hasn’t aged well and the majority of the music sounds horrific when listened to out of context of the era, but it will always have a special place in my heart, mainly because it’s MINE. It was the first scene, post my hip-hop / electro obsession, where I was there from the get-go. I transferred my trainspotting and record collecting from one genre to another, swapped “My Adidas!” for purple Kickers, picked up some wide-legged trews (I was never brave enough for proper flares) and purchased a series of hoodies from Top Man that looked like someone had puked down the front of them. I was so hungry for the music I bought, begged, borrowed, stole and taped every single fucking second of music connected to the scene. Yes, I do own a copy of the Farm’s ‘Stepping Stone’ on 12”, and yes, I would argue its merits over several pints if you fancied it.

Consequently, I have many records like My Jealous God’s ‘Everything About You’ lurking in my collection. My Jealous God were a London-based four-piece centred around the talents of singer/songwriter Jim Melly, and their debut single was released by Rough Trade in 1990. ‘Everything About You’ is an unremarkable, baggy-by-numbers effort. Melody Maker’s Paul Lester was scathing in his assessment – “My Jealous God have seen the future of rock‘n’roll (loping rhythms, stoned-drawl vocals, fuzzy guitar scrawl) and they desperately want a stake in it. Desperately, gormlessly.” A tad harsh perhaps. At the time I rated it, and I wasn’t alone - Steve Lamacq was a fan.

My Jealous God wouldn’t even have been worthy of a footnote had it not been for the masterstroke that was getting visionary acid house-head Gerald ‘A Guy Called Gerald’ Simpson to remix ‘Everything About You’. Gerald chopped up the classic ‘Funky Drummer’ break, added a cheeky b-line, jazzy keys, and cut-up vocal and guitar stabs, and turned in a 7-minute version of the track that used to go down well in the Hacienda. He couldn’t really do anything about the insipid vocals, but it’s urgently funky and a vast improvement on the original.

The band went on to release two more singles; another for Rough Trade, ‘Pray’, later on in 1990, and an effort for Fontana a couple of years later. They even recorded an album, ‘The Idiot’s Ball’, which was sent out for review in 1992 but never received a commercial release. How bad can an album be that a label would go so far down the line without actually releasing the finished article? We’ll probably never know…

Search eBay for My Jealous God
My Jealous God at Bird Poo - documenting the cult, the rare and the forgotten.

Friendly Fires - Photobooth (Mock & Toof Mix)

So this would probably be the 07 equivalent of the track posted above, in that it’s a song by a band recording in the current genre du jour (for baggy read nu-rave), given a corking remix by the ball-achingly brilliant London duo Mock & Toof. I’ve never heard anything by Friendly Fires before, but by all accounts, they’re the best thing to come out of St Albans since Feedle was pulling pints in The Horn.

Apparently, the original version of Friendly Fires’ ‘Photobooth’ starts out as a cover version of Jamie Principle’s Chicago House anthem ‘Your Love’, before exploding into a rampant slab of killer punk-funk. Mock & Toof hand in an extended pogo freak-out, where the vocal comes on like a pre-pubescent Nitzer Ebb. I’m pleased to report the rework climaxes in a maelstrom of noise - kind of ‘Junior Hoover Meets The Siren Boys Uptown’. Silly noises were an integral part of the original rave scene, so I’m glad to hear that they’re making a comeback. I wouldn’t stick my head in the bassbins for anything less. RAVEON!

This remix appears on a 12” released by People in the Sky Records (the label run by veteran producer and former Hooj Choons head honcho Red Jerry) last week. You can check Clark’s awesome mangling of ‘Bring Out Your Dead’ streaming on the Ghettoblaster over on the right hand side.

Buy the Friendly Fires Remix EP from Phonica
Friendly Fires at MySpace
People in the Sky at MySpace
Mock & Toof at MySpace


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Eastman Was An Animal!

National Lampoon - Magical Misery Tour

In 1970, John Lennon gave an interview to Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine. It was the longest interview he ever gave and oh boy, was he in a mood. Bitter, caustic, angry, defiant and utterly devoid of any humility whatsoever, he rants and rages at opponents both real and imagined.

Anyway, we already know this don't we? I didn't gather you at my knee for a history lesson did I? So let's cut to the chase. In 1972 National Lampoon released the album 'Radio Dinner'. Most of the material now sounds horribly dated and many of the cultural references have long since been locked away in the dusty, forgotten cupboards of antiquity. The final track, however, makes wading through all this primordial sludge worthwhile. The song is performed by Tony Hendra, who played the tour manager in Spinal Tap, it's called 'Magical Misery Tour' and it's one of the funniest things I've ever heard. Every line has been lifted from the Rolling Stone interview and the music superbly parodies the sound and chord progressions of Lennon's output at the time. Of course, the bigger a Beatle obsessive you are, the funnier it is but there is enough here for even those with a mere passing familiarity with The Greatest Story Ever Told.

It's his birthday today, he was an arrogant, self obsessed, sociopath but so what? So's Kool Keith and he's ace.

Happy Birthday Johnny la.

The full lowdown on 'Radio Dinner' at Mark's Very Large National Lampoon Site
Official John Lennon website
John Lennon at Wikipedia

Domino Jones.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Me and McGee, Rockabilly Shoegaze, Starrgaze, and the Return of the Rave Hoover

Glasvegas - It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry

There used to be a time when Alan McGee had direct access to the money in my pocket. From about 1988 onwards, he’d sign a band and I’d worship them and buy all of their records. It was a mutually beneficial relationship - he got rich, took Scarface quantities of nose-up and went mad, and I filled my shelves with quality music. It was inevitable that this relationship would eventually sour, but it would perhaps be churlish of me to suggest that his talent spotting radar became wonkier than the façade of a Gaudi building when he stopped taking the drugs. But I’m not sure how else to pinpoint the staggering decline in McGee’s signings since the Super Furry Animals put pen to blotting paper in 1996. I would probably be more on the money in recognising that his recent unintelligible stream-of-consciousness internet rants against the evils of the music industry have intensified in vitriol since he stopped having hits. I think we all know that it ain’t like it used to be, but that’s what progress is all about. So Poptones has gone down the shitter – deal with it. Labels like Domino and Warp still seem to be thriving and they aren’t in the pockets of the majors.

So, to the point – it’s been a while since me and Alan agreed on anything, but it finally seems like the old boy’s ears might be starting to function again as he was one of the first to champion the excellent new Glasgow band, Glasvegas, in one of the aforementioned rants last year. As always, McGee is looking for the new Beatles/Pistols/Oasis, but it’s heartening to hear that Glasvegas’s dominant influences come from outside of that triumvirate’s domineering sphere. The Dalmarnock-based four-piece marry classic 1950s songwriting, in the vein of hits like Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’, to a tornado of white noise, creating a sort of rockabilly shoegaze sound, with lead singer James Allan crooning in his thick, Glaswegian accent.

You could easily imagine The Ronettes recording the band’s second single, ‘Daddy’s Gone’, which is due for release on a limited edition 7” and download through Sane Man Recordings on November 5th 2007. It’s got that whole Spector/Wall of Sound thing going on, in a heartbreaking tale of the pain caused by an absent father. On the flip side it’s tissues at the ready again with ‘Flowers and Football Tops’, inspired by a mother who lost her son to a senseless murder, and eerily prescient following the recent death of Rhys Jones in Liverpool. ‘Flowers…’ opens with a shimmering wall of guitar distortion, before Moe Tucker-esque drum thuds and Allan’s soulful vocal kick in, bizarrely recalling John Travolta singing ‘Sandy’ in ‘Grease’ on the chorus. This is a good thing – trust me. I’m not so sure about the ending, when Allan intones ‘You Are My Sunshine’ over Slowdive guitars – mawkish or moving? I can’t decide.

I’m posting a home demo of a track called ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’, a belting tune that shows Allan’s got a bit in common with Alex Turner, with the way he crams too many words into one line, upsetting the lyrical rhythm of the song but making you listen twice as hard to what he’s saying. In this case, he brilliantly riffs on the trials of being a teenager - “The ecstasy doesnae work it makes you worse, I’m feeling so guilty about the things I said to my Ma when I was 10 year old” and “I think my missus has fucked every guy she looks at” - themes relevant back in the1950s that still resonate today.

A final word on McGee - his recent decision as manager of the Charlatans to give away the new single for free because “nobody buys CDs anymore” smacks of a publicity stunt rather than a magnanimous gesture. Plus, how are new bands like Glasvegas who are just starting out and need some sort of traditional music industry model to be intact (i.e. sell records / downloads – make money) supposed to survive if bands with an established following and plenty of cash decide to start giving everything away for free?

Glasvegas website
Glasvegas My Space
Alan McGee waxes lyrical on his Guardian blog

Ringo Deathstarr - Swirly

Ringo Deathstarr are exactly the sort of band McGee would have signed back in 1991 and I would have fallen head over heels in love with. Their excellent moniker suggests they’d be happy sharing the bill with Napalm Death, but they are in fact a corking four-piece from Texas who recall the glory years of Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Drop Nineteens. I absolutely love them, and listening to this EP made me feel 17 all over again; the distorted mess of gorgeous, fuzzy guitars and buried vocals replicating the confusion that reigned in my nascent, addled mind at that time. I’m posting ‘Swirly’, with that groaning, ‘warped tape’ guitar sound that Kevin Shields perfected on ‘Loveless’. It clocks in at a measly 2 minutes but should go on forever. I guess the hard of heart could dismiss this out of hand for being rather derivative but seeing as how shoegazing didn’t really get a fair crack of the whip the first time round, it deserves a second coming, and bands like Ringo Deathstarr should be at the forefront of the scene.

Ringo Deathstarr’s self-titled five-track debut was released by the ever-wonderful SVC Records, the digital label offshoot of the Spoilt Victorian Child blog. It’s available now from them for a measly £2, but is also getting a hardcopy CD release on October 29th 2007, as well as being available through iTunes and other digital download sites. The band is supporting The Dandy Warhols on a couple of dates in Texas at the end of October and seem destined for very big things indeed.

Buy Ringo Deathstarr's S/T EP from SVC Records
Ringo Deathstarr My Space

Colder - To the Music (Optimo Espacio Mix)

All the hipster blogs have already posted Optimo’s AWESOME remix of Colder’s ‘Into the Music’ weeks ago, so I was having second thoughts about sticking it up. But it’s so fucking good I had to do it, even if it simply serves to demonstrate how slow I am to get onto things. At first it seems the Scottish duo of Twitch and Wilkes are turning in a fairly standard rework of Marc Nguyen Tan’s glacial Parisian-cool take on Joy Division, but then somebody locates the rave hoover in the cupboard under the stairs and gives it some proper welly, the likes of which these ears haven’t heard since Human Resource used a similar appliance to suck my sorry ass onto the dancefloor back in 1991. Fan-fucking-tastic.

This remix is part of a 4-track 12” entitled ‘I Hate… Remixes’ released on Process Recordings, a companion to the forthcoming ‘I Hate Music - A Compilation of Output Recordings 1996-2006’ 3CD box-set. Both hit the shelves in November.

Output Recordings website
Process Recordings My Space

Human Resource - Dominator (Beltram Mix)

And seeing as I’ve been away for so long and in celebration of the return of the rave hoover, here’s Joey Beltram’s belting remix of Human Resource’s ‘Dominator’. I won’t leave it so long again I promise. x

Human Resource on Back to the Old School