Latest in a series of emissions from Techno’s Twilight Zone of EPs/12″s and LPs with notes in the margins.
SNTS alive! It’s that masked man frightening the children and horses with a ‘darker and non-human side,’ asking: “Who hasn’t ever felt scared of the journey of their own thoughts? That rustling of the leaves around you…” This metaphor turns album title, prompting more scary talk: ‘Looking inside oneself, the reflection of the real and the imaginary, the communication between the presence and the disappearance of our ego, the internal battle of the mind. …confrontation with the disappearance of living and existence.’ The Rustling of the Leaves has all the greyscale ambience, smoke-belch drone, and crypt-forged battery you’d want after Chapters and Scenes EP trilogies, here spread over seven tracks + remix from kindred mysterions, Polar Inertia (tagged on TOL– July 2015 with Kinematic Optics). But seriously, though the ‘deep in rhythm, mystery and emotion’ shtick is laid on thick, TRotL is undeniably powerful–RIYL a thick fog of drones, pulsing percussion, the din of distortion, ghoulish wail and religious chant rather than booty-shake and hands-in-the-air.
Next Northern Electronics, who snuck in with a couple of belters late in the day (turn of the year). Abdulla Rashim follows the thrilling Unanimity with A Shell of Speed, archly trailed as ‘eight psychedelic techno statements for a generation in despair.’ NE’s attenuated in-house style belies quite a coloured-in and varied sound, cycling between beatless ambient textures and modular techno jams; “Crossing Qalandiya,” a kind of tripping echoic electronica redolent of 90s IDM-ambient, rubs up against more mono-brow percussive wig-outs (“Red Pool” and “Ador Tracers”). Kindred spirit Acronym cements his dark Italian headf**k credentials (cf. Gigli, Sabatini, Ness, Claudio PRC) with his Ashes EP. Starting mysteriously with atmo-drone title track, it’s soon nose to the hypno-grindstone with drilling synth lead, rusty bare bones rhythms and dark immersive pads on “Fortification.” “Siege” follows suit with an infectious tribal-ish groove, as does the psyched-out mesmeric “Exile,” before “Aftermath” closes with some doleful ambience. Our Swedish inquiries yielded further findings in Under Molnet, host to the Ypsilon EP, wherein (Pelle) Härdstedt blends various tropes into aquatic pulse-scapes, acid-edged but oddly soothing. More darkly alluring UM gear comes in Exhumation by offworldcolonies & Rohr Sha, triangulating Rogslösa, Rennes and Berlin.
Could we leave Sweden without checking in at our other regulars, Hypnus? Course not, with goodies like the ritual-tastic Quetzalcóatl from adepts Luigi Tozzi and Feral‘s Hara Dēvatā (and high priest Ntogn releasing his Bestiary via his own Tome). Our friends from the North seem to get everywhere, notably their spiritual home, Italy: Annulled Music hosts Hypnus adept BLNDR for Fluid System, incl. a great remix from TOL fave Refracted as well as Mod21. And Tozzi is enlisted by Fabrizio Lapiana for the latest in Attic Music‘s VA series, D.A.N.C.E. 3; his “Blood Meridian” floats uneasily under a ‘copter-blade effect beside compatriot Ness, who runs a robo-rhythm through an industrial-infected tunnel for “TMB,” and French fellow-traveller Underjack adds a slab of nebulous hyp-gnosis with a strong rhythmic pay-off. Mastered by master masterer Ken Karter.
Netherlands next, where Delsin welcomes back Berliner Brit BNJMN for Amygdala, a mini-album of outlier techno and house offcuts voyaging into ever more decayed, lo-fi gritty sound sculpture. Thrill to “Microgravity,” a shadowy exercise in dub suspension rippling and groaning/growing over its static-laden span; “Womb,” with its massive wide-sky synth and rippling pads; “P-Tr,” a high-tension brew of glassine electronics with a remote kick inside; “1987,” a dark fuzzy brew of spacious kicks, whirring machines and bubbly tape sounds. “Oder,” more emotive, multiple synth lines resounding around; the title, sporting an almost comically outsize splayed-out bass line and a dystopian house groove, tamed by radiant pads, rounds off another strangely compelling BNJMN set.
Rotterdammer Boris Bunnik (aka Conforce) debuted as Silent Harbour on Echochord in 2012, and is back again at the ambient-electro-dub-techno crossroads with Hinterland (Deep Sound Channel). ‘Electro-influenced delay-laden beats bubble and pop, melodies traverse the speaker space, psychedelic acid lines snake through foggy textures of icy ambience and glacial electronics.’ (Juno) High production values, as always, making for riveting—at times a tad uneasy—listening. And Bunnik moonlights under occasional–seemingly more IDM-inclined–alias Hexagon for Hidden Territories (Transcendent); title track kick starts with a moody frazzled bass and clipped beats, before “Pitchblack” summons cavernous soundscapes, ominously overhung. “Continuum” is in a similar vein, albeit with a tweaked acid underpinning; best is “Systematic Repetition,” all micro-bleeps and woozy melodies tapping into Warp-ed AI.
Latest from Amsterdam’s On and On comes courtesy of Cliche Morph, a young low-profile Belarussian who created a stir with stand-out “Overwhelming Fear” on Semantica’s Index Part One comp. The expertly produced Of EP proves that track was no fluke, consolidating his status as one to watch with a Fanon Flowers remix the cherry on top.
New Amsterdam label Insula is ‘dedicated to new talents that bring an emotional narrative and personal identity to the techno scene.’ First record Amnesia also initiates Cyspe, aka Robin Koek of Artefakt (Field, Delsin), with ‘a sound rooted in architecture, geometry and cybernetics.’ “Amnesia” opens things up in intense style with layers of drums, synths and icy hi hats conspiring in a heady and hypnotic groove. “Transmission” is a blissed interlude of tonefloat with suggestive bass promptings before “Passing” brings propulsive enhancement to its spaced out pads, lulling into infinite groove heaven.
Germany next, where Sebastien Michel’s UVB follows a string of EPs on Mord with a debut album, Life, which defies expectations in view of Bas Mooy‘s label’s profile as a pretty caustic hard techno platform. Though there are plenty of tough workouts–e.g. the dense visceral “Ego” and the loopy groove and muffled vocals of “Rules”–there’s no shortage of unpredictable experiment and subtle harmonic content. “Birth,” resounding to broken beats and guttural screeches, “Introspection” filled with eerie filter washes, “Waking” with its live drumming, work up an intricate rhythmic caché. It’s all suffused with industrial influence, pattern work and a tribal spirit, combined with a looping agenda with a hint of ’90s throwback.
Having delivered two hefty hits of conceptual techno from Edit Select and Deepbass, Lanthan.audio kicks off 2016 with a third release. Lanthan man Christian Gerlach provides a platform for SA-born, NY-based producer Brendon Moeller under his Echologist alias, whose Dead Men Tell No Tales indulges a predilection for hypnotic synth and intense smoky atmo via two originals, with reworks by Deepbass and Antonio Ruscito. The originals offer a trip via metallic loops on a spatial environment of solid beats; Deepbass delivers a different hyp-gnosis in his “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” while Ruscito marches two other takes to different drums. En passant, Moeller goes nomenclaturally native to good effect with Italian underground luminary Giorgio Gigli for The Anatomy Of Thought EP on the ATT Series label.
Max Durante’s Black Light 12″ on neonate Berlin label Kynant with a Donato Dozzy remix. Durante is one of the early 90’s hubs of the Italian Techno scene, combining industrial & techno with former project Automatic Sound Unlimited (with D’archangelo of Rephlex). A-side begins with the swung drums, drone and perc of “Black Light,” and continues the abraded broken-beat theme with “Solar Request.” “Biocentrism” is more direct with bleeps, sharp high-end percussion and hefty 4×4 kick. Hypno-tech maestro Donato Dozzy remixes “Biocentrism,” looping the feedback for floor-filling pay-off. Mastered by Neel, Dozzy’s partner in Voices From The Lake.
Tresor unveils a debut EP from Zadig, head of Construct Re-Form, already inducted into the Tresor Inner Sanctum with the inclusion of “Panic” on Demo Tracks #2. The Stellar Hunter is three old school-ed techno tracks, matching his production chops and stylist-tics–between stretched synth pads, high-frequency blips and reversed kick sequences coupled with deep hypnotic bass lines. Napoletan sound stylist Luca Landolfi, aka Synthek, owner of Natch and STK, now based in Berlin, is another Tresor resident, though his MRI EP is hosted by NL’s Wunderblock. The subtle darkness of “In Slow Motion” yields to a remix from Arnaud Le Texier (Children Of Tomorrow) before two break-techno stompers complete a striking 12″: throbbing banger, “State Variable,” is bested by the raw but refined “MRI.” Mastered by Ken Karter, natch. There’s his Verse II too, which follows the same path as the first STK release, but more wild at heart and weird on top!
Weirdos Shards were first let loose on an unsuspecting world with Rowing Sheep Smile For The Dead on Mord, nicely congruent with the label’s industrial stylesheet. Shards 003 is a third episode of creepy outsider Techno cuts, titles eponymous, tracks untitled, releases limited. Shards’ releases have rapidly gone from unkempt to unhinged, and here the gap is less minded, growing more incongruent with every listen. Side A kicks off with a quick pulse and some smeared chimes, before developing into a disorientating doofist anthem. The A2 turns into a caustic bleep barrage in the vein of classic AE, with a punishing off-kilter clout. The B-side sees the deconstruction continue, with more of a dark broken tribal-ish 2-step take on techno.
Claudio PRC/Ness/Reggy Van Oers/Deepbass is the impressive quartet assembled by Joachim Spieth for his Affin imprint’s Affinity 1, first in a new series that will likely delve into deeper inner Berlin techno territory. Claudio PRC first with “Limnic,” a slow-burn sinister epic with some seriously evil sound design and bass droning into the void. Fellow Sardinian and erstwhile Prologue-mate Ness comes up trumps with “Vardar,” a stomping tunnelling affair with layer upon layer of immersive pads and ambiguous atmospherics. RVO leans a bit towards Dettmann for “Frenetic” and finally Glasgow’s Deepbass brings his eponymous style to “The Light That Never Was.” The label also offers Affin Selected 2015, a compilation of its best bits.
David Letellier is something of a veteran now, this being his fifth Kangding Ray album. Cory Arcane is ‘…sort of a fictional figure I invented to express the character of this album. Both are full of contradictions. They explore the weirdness of the contemporary world. So this character is representing the state that I’m in,’ he tells us. It plays off light against dark, caustic against consonant, right from the sensual ambience of opener “Acto” ceding to the broken beats and bleak whirs of “Dark Barker.” He repeats the trick, with the rolling distorted “Brume”, the banging “These Are My Rivers” and the fidgeting “Safran.” Melody also finds a place to flourish on “When We Were Queens.” Arguably Raster Noton’s most reliable and consistent performer. (Scrub the arguably, Ed.)
Ilian Tape has been an unduly neglected area of fertile electronic crossover endeavour. Hopefully no longer, as co-owner Dario Zenker presents Dedication, a first 12″ since last year’s dark and dubby turn on Trilogy Tapes. Not the first Zenker outing of 2015–see the Immersion album with bro’ Marco as Zenker Brothers, but Dario’s first solo IT outing since Alto Fragments (2013). Drolly tagged “Delightful Weird Bavarian Massage,” it lands squarely in the booming broken beat techno territory of IT’s predilection. Typically tropical techno designed to counter the dark, cold (well, wet and windy, anyway) winter nights (Previously on IT, and of similar appealingly hyper bent is Argentine Andres Zacco‘s Dinosphere). This leads us to Sciahri (half of UNKNOT), whose debut came courtesy of IT. His Behind The Line for Opal Tapes is worth the price of admission for standout opener “Eremite,” which transports into another dimension with celestial synth chords and and roiling electronics blended with steppy broken techno beats. There’s more of an old school Italian techno feel to “Ambiguity,” restless rhythms and acid-tinged wonky electronics and nods to the post-industrialist fuzz of L.I.E.S and Trilogy Tapes on the unyielding “Sublunar.”
To London, where Phonica White have a thing for Japanese dj/producer Iori (Asano), Monsoon/Rainfall marking the fifth release for the label of this their mainstay artist. “Monsoon” is a typically hypnotic dub techno piece with steady kicks and toms opening the track up before a relentless downpour of intricate percussion and low-end stabs lock you in for the long-haul. “Rainfall” is a more meditative sparse modulating synth affair–essentially a less evil twin. Iori also finds in Semantica a sympathetic stable for Nowhere, all droning warehouse techno keys, jacked-up rhythms and spaced-out sound effects.
Where To Now? Where else but Where To Now? (‘once a club night, then it was a radio show, now it’s a label’ WTN?), and Berlin-based Tone-bender, Yair Elazar Glotman, aka KETEV, who ’employs his unique ambient technoid soundscapes to explore the balance between darkness and light, fragility and strength, and tension and release.’ (‘But can you dance to it,’ Ed.? ;)). Traces of Weakness expands on themes explored on previous albums for Where To Now? and Opal Tapes. Recorded at EMS Stockholm on their Buchla Modular Synth, processed with reel-to-reel tape manipulation including personal archived field recordings, ‘the album is divided into four long expressions, moving through a cycle of melancholy, destruction, urgency, fragility, and total calm.’ (‘No hands in the air, then’ Ed.;)) Influences from ambient (Stars of The Lid, Tim Hecker and Tomas Koner) blend with more caustic elements, with “Linger” finding KETEV in full on rhythmic dread mode.
Still on WTN?, Portugal’s Manuel Carvalho aka Manta, clearly another cerebral type–previous work documenting the ’emotional semantics of architecture and the extension of their effect on the human psyche’ in ‘lucid techno’ style. But you do get to dance to his latest, Etra, while he explores ‘the perception of time, disorientated experience’ and other concepts drawn from Ballard and Calvino, such as ‘how people imprint their ego and character in their surroundings either by projection or construction, their spatial manifestation…’ to look at ‘how one would create that manifestation not in space but in time, using sound rather than brick,’ Manta does so with a series of vivid atmospheres, mixing twinkling synth parts and 4/4 kicks with subtle voice/breath samples, under equal parts Detroit (cf. Drexciya, Terrence Dixon, Moodymann) and Berlin (Pole, Basic Channel) influence, playing with perceptions of time, constantly shifting timbre and rhythm, inviting a wandering, disorientated experience. (Quickie: on a Portuguese tip, Alex Randal (aka Rafael Quintas) comes with good refs (Ben Klock, Oscar Mulero, Shifted), his Planet X EP on Soniculture ‘filled with the sensation of travelling through the density created by acid basslines and ethereal melodies.’)
Next, a new stop on our Outer Limits trek: Poland. Michal Wolski is one of the best known producers here, with releases for labels such as Blank Slate, Technosoul, and Minicromusic. The Unthinkable Otherwiseness is an EP for Marco Shuttle‘s Eerie containing three deep mysterious specimens, each a meditative trip with deep, ambient and minimal influences, with Wolski seeking synergy between the raw and the cooked. Classic 808 drum set meets hazy drones, pads and deep bass lines. Wolski also has The Root EP (International Day Off), six tracks of strange atmo-attended grooves incl. two remixes–light ambient from New Rome, dubby from Gary Holldman. Poland’s Got Talent, clearly, as Michal Jablonski, also previously on Wolski’s Minicromusic, impressed Circular Limited enough to release his Subhead EP, whose ‘sound walks to the depth of the abyss developing a tense calm along the way.’ One more Pole before we vault is Yac, whose work–more towards the dub techno end of the tech-spec (cf. previous Viscaria EP on [instabil])–is well evidenced on the Mantas EP (also on Minimicromusic).
Vancouver’s 1800HaightStreet follow up their Pursuit with a EP for Lobster Theremin sublabel Mörk. While most Canadian Rivera types tend towards dreamy, new age-y deep house, ambient and IDM, this lot are more into the potency of dusty techno, albeit smudged and hazy with fluid, off-kilter musical elements–melodies and fluttering synth patterns. Main driver, though, seems to be the power of positive hardware thinking. Heldled is a murky 3-tracker that plumbs the depths of acid skitter, heart-flutter pad float with low-end pressure, “Dreamer” tweaking acid lines over formless and dreamlike synth pads, while the title track is an abstracted sad-happy piece of cymbal-driven Detroit pump, and finale “Drained” is part blissful ‘floor jack, part ambiguous something else, drifting without a clear resolution.
By now a year-end tradition from PoleGroup, Unknown Landscapes Vol. 3 is 20-odd tracks from a blend of artists and producers old and new to the label. Group leader Oscar Mulero himself curated the inaugural set in 2013, Christian Wünsch in 2014. This time Exium get the gig. Mulero appears, as does Wünsch and usual suspects Reeko and Kwartz (and Exium, natch). Others on hand include Sleeparchive, Vril, Inigo Kennedy, Antigone, Dino Sabatini and UVB. Also contributing are Refracted, Eric Fetcher and Pulse One, each lined up for EPs on PoleGroup’s new digital offshoot, AINE. Kicking off is Refracted, increasingly active purveyor of deep, hypnotic techno, whose pursuits this year include launching his own label, Mind Express, and releasing a debut album on Silent Season. His 2-tracker To Gain Your Own Voice is a resonant new year arrival. Before moving on, cheeky shout-out to sneaky Mulero-alike Jose Pouj whose Infrared Radiation on Tsunami includes a Wünsch refix.
More debuts on restless Planet Rhythm: Glaswegian Repart with the Moribund EP, the Rawling EP from Alpi, and another Italian, Alfredo Mazzilli, channeling The Sound Of Unknown Landscape. And Planet Rhythm 2015 comp is still fresh, featuring selected tracks from last year’s catalog incl Re:Axis, TWR72, Yan Cook, Bas Mooy, Mr. G, Alderaan and many more.
A few quick sorties to finish:
One door closes (Aconito), another opens for nAX_Acid, who launches a new label Kontrafaktum with the Abyssal EP (though nothing stirring on soundcloud aswespeak) with some pretty fancy talk about ‘drone-pervaded mysterious deep techno. Deriving inspiration from philosophical theories of modality, the label expresses the corresponding metaphysical questions about possibility, necessity, and contingency from an artistic and sonic perspective.’ (yes, but can you dance to it?!)
New on Newrhythmic is the Black Blue Smoke EP, a starry spangled banger from Ben Gibson incl. 4 originals in signature beat-wrangling style with broken rhythms and melancholy leads, plus a remix from label boss Joton.
Stefan Vincent offers more than heads-down no nonsense mindless doof-ing with As we wait for the machines to catch up with us for Paul Boex‘s Dynamic Reflection, evincing a doleful dystopian mood and a grasp of harmonics and tone manipulation harnessed to expression of how humankind is affected by unsatisfiable hunger for technology and perfection.