Thursday, April 30, 2009

Box Fresh Techno

Laurent Garnier - Astral Dreams (Speakers Mix)
Laurent Garnier - Astral Dreams (Headphones Mix)

The thing about top-notch quality techno is that it never seems to age. Take Laurent Garnier’s ‘Astral Dreams (Speakers Mix)’. It is nearly 15 years old, but rather than sounding dusty and ancient it still sounds box fresh today, like it was cooked up on Reason and burnt onto a CDr by some prodigious teen techno producer last week. 15 years is a long time, but the track is timeless, with super crispy production. OK, so if you were playing it out now you’d have to pitch it up a bit, but I probably would have given it a bit of a nudge even back then - you want everything to go faster when you’re young. As the ‘Speakers Mix’ suggests, this was one for the dancefloor, designed to shred ears – if you stood too close to the PA it sounded like a gigantic metallic dog was barking directly into your brain.

The ‘Speakers Mix’ originally surfaced on a 12” on FComm – the precursor to the French techno wizard’s debut album ‘Shot in the Dark’, which was released in the autumn of 1994. There was a ‘Headphones Mix’ that I’m also posting - this is a laidback, trancier affair that is more of the period and does sound slightly dated. But when that insidious acid line kicks in it’s a dead ringer for peak-‘Brown Album’ Orbital, which is a very, very good thing indeed.

Search eBay for 'Shot in the Dark'
Laurent Garnier discography
Laurent Garnier MySpace

As a footnote - I'm on Twitter now. You can find me here. Not sure how I'm going to use it at the moment, but I am considering doing occasional exclusive Twitter posts - 140 character reviews with tinyurl links to downloadable tracks - that won't feature on the main TWNR site. It may never happen, but if you want to see if it does - follow me! If I get 12 followers, I'll organise a supper for us all somewhere nice*.

* I won't.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Liberation Through Collaboration

Mike & Rich - Vodka

Back in early 1996 when rumours of a collaboration between electronic behemoths Richard D. James and Mike Paradinas first reached my ears, I was so excited you would have thought it had just been announced that a re-animated Albert Einstein was getting together with Professor Stephen Hawking to finalise plans for a teleportation device. The reality was something far less highbrow - as Mike P revealed of their union: "With Rich it was ... fooling around pissed and on acid".

So not the groundbreaking, experimental electronic-fest everyone was expecting. Instead we got a couple of equipment-obsessed techno boffins getting mullered on vodka and acid in a studio and concocting some cheesy tuneage, though the resulting album, 'Mike & Rich' ('Extreme Knob Twiddlers' was a subtitle), is an underrated, joyful affair. Of the process itself, Mike P said in an interview with the brilliant Milk Factory website: "It started round his (Richard's) place and we just did this track. I think we both enjoyed working together, it was quite a laugh, so we carried it on. We were serious about the music though - it's not a pisstake, just elements of joy."

Many critics saw Mike P as the dominant force in the recording process, and the free-jazz keys of opener 'Mr Frosty' were certainly evocative of the music he produced under his Jake Slazenger moniker. Throughout, the playful synths and odd samples recall prime Rephlex-era µ-ziq material. But this simplistic view doesn't allow for the fact that (according to Mike P) the sessions were partly inspired by the unreleased Aphex Twin album 'Melodies from Mars'. Plus I can't imagine such a strong personality as RDJ would have been subservient to another producer - it's far more likely that he felt suitably liberated by the collaborative process, relaxed by multiple vodka shots, off his face on acid, and in the mood to create something a little bit different from his usual output. The crunchy techno of 'Vodka', with its off-kilter melodies is very Aphex, and 'Winner Takes All' recalls 'Cow Cud is a Twin' from the 'I Care Because You Do' album, while also being reminiscent of contemporary Luke Vibert's output as Wagon Christ.

'Mike & Rich' has aged pretty well considering and the cover is an absolute classic. Seeing the youthful Mike and Rich enjoying a game of Downfall is a reminder of more innocent times.

Squarepusher/AFX - Freeman Hardy & Willis Acid

Luke Vibert sent many a fan boy's pulse racing when he disclosed (again in an interview with The Milk Factory in 2003) that all of the electronic music scene's powerhouses have worked together at some point. "(Me and Richard) do work loads. Nearly every time I see him, we make music together. Same with Squarepusher. We’ve done tracks with Tom, I’ve done tracks with Mike Paradinas, everyone’s done tracks together." But, unfortunately, it appears that not many of these collaborations will ever see the light of day as they simply aren't good enough - too unfocused, sprawling and messy to be worthy of a proper release. Though tantalisingly, Vibert said that he might give some of them away via the internet - as far as I'm aware, this hasn't happened yet.

However, one track that did make it into the public domain was a collaboration between Tom 'Squarepusher' Jenkinson and RDJ under his AFX guise. Recorded to celebrate Warp Records’ 100th release and named after the popular high street shoe retailer, 'Freeman, Hardy & Willis Acid' marries some mournful Aphexian melodies to jazzy, rolling Squarepusher d'n'b beats. Then the ante is upped as the drums go all splattercore and it finally delivers on the acid promised by the title with some vintage squidge. With Warp celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, perhaps a few more collaborations between the old school heavyweights could be on the cards. Here's hoping...

Buy 'Mike & Rich' from Boomkat
Mike P's Planet Mu website
Aphex Twin fan resource/forum at WATMM - strictly for the hardcore fanboize - you have been warned!
Squarepusher MySpace
Warp Records website

Thursday, April 09, 2009

A Scene Worth Celebrating Again

The Early Years - Like a Suicide

As documented many times on TWNR, I was a teenage shoegazer. Ride posters on my wall, Ride T-shirt on my back, sporting the duffel coat/Converse combo, silly girls hair and a winsome, fey expression permanently etched on my fizzog. Now I consider myself to be a massive fan with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the scene, but everything pales into insignificance when compared to the shoegazer extraordinaire, Nathaniel Cramp of Sonic Cathedral. Nat has single-handedly resurrected the shoegazing genre, breathing new life into the much-maligned scene (Richey Manic famously said he hated it "more than Hitler") with club nights and a record label. If you want some more background info, we wrote a piece about Nat and Sonic Cathedral back in 2007 - you can find it here.

Nat's mission statement, as told to Jude Rogers in the Guardian, was to "contextualise shoegazing in terms of its influences and inspirations". But as well as looking back, Sonic Cathedral is also moving forwards, so the music he releases on the label is not a tired, hackneyed tribute to the original shoegazing scene. Instead, Sonic Cathedral represents everything that is great about music TODAY. Nat's eclectic A&R policy and fine ear has led to him releasing a series of phenomenal singles. All hits. No misses. That is quite an achievement in this day and age. If I were a major label I'd be getting Mr Cramp on my payroll quick smart...

Just how consistently great the Sonic Cathedral label output has been becomes evident when you listen to 'Cathedral Classics Volume One' - a compilation of the first eleven 7" singles released on the label since 2006, out on CD on April 20, 2009. It is, without a doubt, the best compilation I have heard for eons - a real throwback to the classic Creation compilations that were a testament to Alan McGee's A&R talents during the 1990s.

Kicking things off, The Tambourines' 'Sally O'Gannon' is a heady burst of fuzzy guitar pop - like Jesus and Mary Chain crossed with the Dandy Warhols. Courtney Taylor-Taylor (one surname not enough?) of the aforementioned Dandys would cut off his cock and flog it to Satan to still be writing songs this good.

For the label's second single, Nat rolled out the big guns - the union of Mark Gardener and Ulrich Schnauss was one made in heaven. The latter's remix skills transforms the former Ride man's heartbreaking country song, 'The Story of the Eye', into a lush slice of celestial folk - not so much shoegazing as stargazing. They should make an album together and then I can die happy.

Another shoegaze luminary to feature in the Sonic Cathedral oeuvre is the former Slowdive mainman Neil Halstead. He rocked up on the seventh single, remixing the San Francisco folk rocker Miranda Lee Richard's tender country ballad 'Lifeboat' and transforming it into a feedback-drenched slo-mo trip hop wonder, more reminiscent of Portishead than Halstead's former band (for whom the phrase 'sonic cathedrals of sound" was originally coined).

Things get really post-modern with the re-interpretations of tracks from Japancakes instrumental treatment of My Bloody Valentine's 'Loveless'. James Rutledge (aka the mighty Pedro) turns 'Soon' into a bleepy microhouse marvel, the swoons and groans of the original just about audible amid the bonkers skittering electronics, while Ricardo Tobar's reworking of 'Touched' is six-minutes of blissed-out, technoid brilliance - a Balearic classic in the making.

But the stand-out single for me is The Early Years (Brian Eno's favourite band) dark epic 'Like a Suicide'. A distorted, pulsing drum machine holds everything down, steady as a metronome, while a melody reminiscent of Joy Division's 'Isolation' hovers into earshot. It all shifts up a sonic gear when the vocal drops - a Gary Numan-esque baritone intones, "I'm not falling apart, just into pieces", before a guitar is mangled to death. Fuck Editors - this is how a 21st-Century Joy Division would have sounded.

Having said there are no misses, I am not the biggest Kyte fan. Under their own steam the Leicester band are unremarkable; their overwrought, piano-heavy torchsong 'Planet' is just a little too close to Keane for my liking. But when James "Maps" Chapman gets involved it's a different story - his remix of 'Secular Ventures' transforms the band into a credible proposition - imagine early-OMD with spikey Aphex rhythms. They should ask him to join full-time.

Elsewhere, Maps and M83 swap remixes, the Contino remix of Sarabeth Tucek's 'Something For You' is a comedown classic, and Sonic Boom goes all Radiophonic Workshop on Dean & Britta's (of Galaxie 500 and Luna fame) 'White Horses', a cover of a 1960s kids cartoon theme tune. And finally, with SCR011, the label released something resembling old school shoegaze - the bloody marvellous 'Within the Boundaries' by Daniel Land and the Modern Painters, an epic soundscape reminiscent of prime-Cocteaus.

Nice sleeve too - a gloriously yellow pastiche of 'Loveless'. Hopefully this is just the start for Sonic Cathedral. The label is preparing to release its first artist album later on this year - from Sweden's Sad Day for Puppets, who sound a bit like the Concretes crossed with Dinosaur Jr.

Forget the scene, it's the label that is worth celebrating...

Buy 'Cathedral Classics Volume One' from Norman Records
Visit the Sonic Cathedral shop
Sonic Cathedral MySpace

Thursday, April 02, 2009

People in Motion Again

Papercuts - The Machine Will Tell Us So

San Francisco is gearing up for another Summer of Love as there's a properly tasty scene building in the city at the moment. At its heart is Jason Quever, a guy with a very interesting back-story – he was raised in a commune in Humboldt County in Northern California, orphaned, and moved up and down the West Coast before settling in San Francisco. A talented multi-instrumentalist with a fine ear, he's become a focal point for West Coast musicians, playing with and producing a whole heap of acts including Devendra Banhart, Vetiver, Donkeys, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Cass McCombs and Beach House.

As well as his role as the Phil Spector of modern-day San Fran, Quever also has his own Papercuts project and the optimistically-titled ‘You Can Have What You Want’ is the third album he's recorded under that nom de plume, but the first to be released in the UK (on April 13 2009, by the ever-reliable Memphis Industries). It’s a dreamy collection of reverb-drenched pop songs, dominated by vintage analogue organs and Quever’s soaring vocals. The songs evoke hazy summer days, rich with melancholic drama and stunning arrangements – that Spector comparison was not a joke, though perhaps Brian Wilson circa-'Pet Sounds' is a more accurate sonic comparison.

It has a retro-future vibe - new sounds recorded on old equipment - that immediately brought to mind ‘The Noise Made By People’-era Broadcast (who incidentally have a song called Papercuts in their oeuvre – coincidence?), especially the drums, nailed on the press release as “Kraut-via Ringo”. Quever himself has flagged up 'The Twilight Zone' as a big influence on the album (he was watching the boxset on repeat during recording) - "It's clear to me that the show's mysterious, melancholic vibe seeped into the album", he revealed. This does actually make perfect sense. There's also a laidback, Gallic feel to proceedings; the evocative whiff of Gauloise and Gainsbourg permeate the tracks. Love it.

Catch the Papercuts experience live when Quever and his merry band tour the UK and Europe in April in support of the album -

09 April - Deaf Institute, Manchester
11 April - Bird On The Wire, London
12 April - Freebutt, Brighton
13 April - Rough Trade Instore, London
14 April - Cafe de la Danse, Paris
15 April - The Cellar, Oxford
16 April - The Legion, London
17 April - Buffalo Bar, Cardiff

Preorder 'You Can Have What You Want' from Norman Records
Papercuts at Memphis Industries
Papercuts MySpace