Is it just me or is there a something of an “industrial” revival happening in contemporary techno? Harder, faster, noisier, nastier seems to be back in vogue, and I for one am delighted about it.
The focus of the, er, nu-industrial wave is Berlin duo Ancient Methods, AKA Conrad ‘Baeks’ Protzmann and Trias. Ancient Methods’ material is tough-as-teflon but funky as hell; they manage to make music that sounds at once brutalising and, well, rather sensuous. The most recent AM offering is the sensational Fourth Method 12″: the lead track (they’re all untitled, which only adds to the sense of murk and disorientation) deploys all kinds of abrasive post-Vainio drone and scree, but rides a flexing rhythm reminiscent of recent Monolake and Surgeon. The B1 is more straightforward, the kind of juddering, high-BPM dub-techno redolent of Tresor and mid-90s Berlin, while the EP closes out with a broken, saw-toothed monster that comes over like T++ in an absolutely stinking mood. This 12″‘s predecessor, Third Method, is for me the duo’s most satisfying release to date: three tracks of metallic scourings and traumatised breakbeats chiselled to pert perfection. Check in particular ‘Else’ (Ugandan Method), a rhythmically challenging dancefloor-thresher wreathed in Sleeparchive-style bleeps. The more recent ‘The Whip’ isn’t even techno, at least not in the conventional since; it’s just a slow, primal-futurist drum tattoo that’s as captivating as it is simple. On the B-side kindred spirit Bjorn Svin contributes ‘Eat Like Hawk’, which sounds like Hawtin’s mix of La Funk Mob fed through a meat-grinder. In a good way.
These tunes are cruel to be kind, they ask a lot of you but they offer a rich, rich dividend. Check them out, but before you do that, download Ancient Methods’ mix for Mnml Ssgs, a riveting session that finds Vestigial and Roger Rotor rubbing shoulders with Patrick Pulsinger and Thomas Bangalter (there’s also a big presence from Sähkö, Raster-Noton and Robert Henke, reminding us that the world of sound-art, glitch and ‘gallery techno’ is where the industrial aesthetic has been hiding and festering for most of the noughties). Most importantly, this mix – for my money the most important and impressive of 2009 – shows that the modern industrial techno sound, unlike that of yore, is about nuance as well as brute-force. The influence of Basic Channel on Ancient Methods is palpable and profound: what makes their metallic ruffage easy for a pansy like me to countenance is its dubwise modulation and processing; moreover the beats are sophisticated, syncopated and polyrhythmic, full of squashed, Shed-style breaks and the kind of broken tunnelist grooves so beloved of Berghain and its residents. It’s music that’s ascetic and severe, but somehow luxuriant at the same time. I simply can’t recommend it enough.
British techno has always had a close and concerted association with the industrial, culminating in the discography of Surgeon and Regis’s now defunct British Murder Boys project. BMB delivered both musically and in terms of concept and imagery – industrial as noise and provocation. ‘Don’t Give Way To Fear’ (2003) remains my favourite BMB 12”, with its jackhammering untitled A-side constituting raw, percussive techno at its absolute best, but every BMB production is worth checking: if you haven’t already, cop a sniff of the skippy, dubstep-alike ‘Be Like I Am’ from the Father Loves Us 12”, and the relatively “light” Basic Channel-esque Learn Your Lesson. With “minimal” long descended into tech-house water-treading and corporate hippie irrelevance, with people like Luciano delivering a fucking Tribute To The Sun (have you seen that cover art?), the cold-hearted, darkly humorous and confrontational output of the Murder Boys feels all the more valid, vital and – excuse the excessive alliteration, it’s always been a weakness – viable. British Murder Boys was a way for Surgeon and Regis to unite their super-human command of beat-mechanics with their love of situationism and the political incitements of heroes like Cabaret Voltaire, Whitehouse and Einsturzende Neubauten. Like Coil (who made some dubious forays into acid house at the dawn of the 90s) and TG before him, Regis in particular has always entertained an interest in the occult, ritualistic properties and potential of repetitive dance music; the idea that “techno” might be used to conjure transcendent states aside from and beyond mere hug-your-mates euphoria.
British techno has been out of favour, or at least fashion, for most of this decade. I guess it has a lot to do with its core following, that “hard” techno cliché of shaven-headed men getting lairy on whizz and generally killing the vibe. Long valorised by the “serious” techno underground, Regis and Surgeon are now getting more widespread attention, repped by dubsteppers and the Hardwax/Ostgut-Ton massive, who are rightly in thrall to the Midlanders’ command of sound design and next-level drum science. Most significant in the rehabilitation of both British and industrial techno has been the birth of Sandwell District, a sub-label of Regis’s Downwards which is enjoying a life of its own right now thanks to a consistent run of incredibly well-produced 12”s. Sandwell District renders the language of industrial and “proper” techno in the grammar of modern-day minimal.
In an interview I stumbled across online, Regis, real name Karl O’Connor, describes Sandwell District as “a reflective consideration and evaluation of Downwards’ relevance in the contemporary era”; in other words, Sandwell District is the classic Downwards sound slowed down to an “acceptable” house tempo (though as connoisseurs of Downwards will know, it’s not quite as simple as that). Like the Ancient Methods and British Murder Boys gear, Sandwell District productions gather the coarse, corrosive elements of the industrial – bleeps, scrapes and drones – and use them to construct rhythms that are preternaturally spry and swinging. This is really, really danceable stuff. The label has been extant since 2002, opening for business with Regis and Ian J. Richardson’s ‘Untergang’ – a punishing, breakneck track that’s hardly a departure from the usual Downwards fare. It’s really in the last year or so that the SD sound has become a force to be reckoned with, Regis calling on the talents of US producer Dave Sumner AKA Function, Female (another Birmingham techno veteran, Peter Sutton) and Silent Servant AKA John Mendez.
The charge often levelled at Sandwell District is that all their 12”s sound the same – and it’s not an unfair criticism, to be honest. These tracks are largely hookless, and they’re deliberately functional, anonymous works – they’re unfailingly “anorectic”, they offer only rhythm and texture. What makes them so addictive is the unwaveringly high quality of production: these tunes are of course fiercely mechanical in the industrial techno tradition, but they have a crispness and swing to them derived from minimal and dubstep, and the aforementioned dub-head’s sense of space and layering. Still, you only need a three or four of the 12”s to get a grasp on what the label’s about: I recommend Regis’s killer edit of N/A’s ‘Variance’, Silent Servant’s The Blood Of Our King (featuring the chiming, Maurizio-indebted ‘Doom Deferred’ and the quivering, echo-drenched ‘Disciple To Master’), Function’s Anticipation (manna from heaven for snap-clap-junkies like myself) and Kalon’s Monolake-esque Born-Against 12” Most of you will already be wise to this stuff – it’s been raved about in several quarters, and volubly supported by the Berghain boys; indeed, one of the best SD-related releases to date is Regis and Function’s none-more-slinky edit of Ben Klock’s ‘Subzero’, a masterpiece of dovetailing, dub-treated percussion textures.
While Sandwell District has attracted the most attention, its parent Downwards continues to provide a home for some startlingly fine and adventurous music. Regis’s hook-up with Antonym on the Radical Simple Practice 10″ beats Mika Vainio and Sleeparchive at their own game, exploring the full, unsettling tonal possibilities of stripped-back 4/4 techno without sacrificing dancefloor impact. Again, this music might be full of menace and foreboding, but it is determindedly pleasure-centric.
“I feel [my music] to be very gentle and light to be honest,” Regis explaines. “I have always made music by instinct, real soul music. I would never contrive to make something dark or aggressive. “
John ‘Silent Servant’ Mendez, former head of Cytrax no less, made the leap from Sandwell District to Downwards last month, collaborating with Camella Lobo on a limited edition 10″ release under the name Tropic of Cancer. ‘The Dull Age’/’Victim’ certainly isn’t a techno, instead connecting directly with 80s industrial and minimal wave, shot through with a healthy dose of drone-rock and faintly hauntological ambient. It’s an aching, wistful record, a world away from the usual linear Downwards product, and all the more commendable for it. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of minimal wave, I’ve recently been gorging on lavish reissues from a label called, imaginatively, Minimal Wave. These obscure if rather over-priced gems are superb: check out ‘Hez Aus Stein’ and ‘TV Noir 4’ from German band Bal Pare, or ‘Are Kisses Out of Fashion’ by Sudeten Creche – one of my favourite “pop” songs ever. Meanwhile, what could be more minimal wave than the new EP from Sleeparchive under his Skanfrom guise? Are You Alone is a gorgeous, unexpectedly melodic 7″, occupying a frost-bitten waystation somewhere between Legowelt and Suicide.
Look around you and you’ll find the industrial infiltrating dancefloors everywhere: from the sheet-metal drone-step of Cloaks to the grinding warehouse fodder of Levon Vincent. It’s no great secret that Vincent has been one of the producers of the year, his creations charting a fertile middle ground between New York basement house and Berlin dub-techno. The monumental ‘Six Figures’ and more recently his remix of Mike Dehnert’s ‘Umlaut2’ on Clone’s Basement Series are industrial tracks by dint of their sheer mechanical force. It just bangs, and has deservedly proven to be one of the most popular dancefloor tracks of the year. Vincent’s latest, a track called ‘Late Night Jam’, thusfar exclusive to Tama Sumo’s patchy Panorama Bar 02 mix (forthcoming on Ostgut Ton), is a bit formulaic: a typically rough-hewn vamp strapped to one of those irresistible clangy, sub-heavy grooves that Vincent has honed across innumerable functional (and often forgettable) tracks on his Novel Sound series. Dehnert deserves a bigger mention than I have time or space to give him here: his Fachwerk imprint has been a byword for quality since its inception in 2007. Like pretty much all the best techno right now, Dehnert’s stuff is nothing if not skippy: the flexes on ‘Ke Me’ and ‘XI’ off his recent(ish) Poutres EP are to die for. His latest Fachwerk release, ‘Umluft’, is more conventional, but still worthy of your attention, and there’s a tasty new Clone 12″ forthcoming.
Last week saw the release of the first 12” on FRKWYS, a subscription-funded sub-label set up by RVNG Intl. for more experimental and playful music/art projects. The first release came from Excepter, who like their friends and fellow Brooklynites Black Dice have helped nourish and re-invent “industrial” over the past decade, fashioning a unique brand of lurid, repetitive beat-led noise-jams that have a lot more in common with techno than rock ‘n roll (indeed, the 4/4-driven Black Dice show I saw earlier this year in London was probably the most transporting and “techno” thing I’ve seen in yonks; props too to Astral Social Club). When it comes to recorded material, though, Excepter have a tendency to ramble and be a bit, well, silly. I was surprised, then, to find this FRKWYS release, actually comprised of remixes by Carter Tutti and JG Thirlwell, so satisfying.
Carter Tutti is of course Chris Carter and Cosey Fanny Tutti of Throbbing Gristle, while Melbourne’s JG Thirlwell is best known for collaborating with pretty much every industrial artist of note, playing in an early Bad Seeds line-up, and building up a gargantuan body of work recorded under the banner of Foetus. Thanks to Chris Carter and Peter Christopherson, the electronic element in TG was always pronounced (need I mention ‘Hot On The Heels of Love’?), and their influence on early techno can’t be overestimated. Though at times too whimsical for their own good, Chris & Cosey’s post-/para-TG collaborations throughout the nineties veered from arty abstraction through mordant disco-pop and on to stuff that was, basically, techno – check, for instance, the brilliant proto-acid headfuck that is ‘Alchemy’. Their remix of Excepter’s “Shots Ring’ is a lot of fun but lacks bite; in fact it sounds a bit like a !!! B-side, if truth be told.
The real pleasure on this handsomely packaged 12″ is Thirlwell’s mix of ‘Stretch’ on the flip. It’s an absolute beast – sporting almost comically intense tribal drums, booming, militaristic horns and demented acid squiggles and electro builds that remind me of nothing so much as Zomby’s ‘Strange Fruit’. If Black Strobe had been really, really good – I know it’s hard to imagine – then they might have made something like this.
TEN NEW RECORDS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS MONTH
01: ROSWELL PROBE – PROBE [SYNCOM DATA CD/DVD-R]
CD collecting Roswell Return’s recent 12″s – some of the most sumptuous and bewitching ambient techno that you’ll ever hear.
02: DA POSSE – IT’S MY LIFE [CLONE CLASSIC CUTS]
Apparently produced by Hula, one of the Outhere Brothers (yes, those Outhere Brothers), this EP of bumping, brittle Chicago house, originally released in ’87, is notable less for the Derrick May rip-off of a title track and more for the syncopated A-side monster, ‘Strings’.
03: ANCIENT METHODS – ‘THE WHIP’ [ANCIENT METHODS RSB 12″]
See main article.
04: REDSHAPE – THE DANCE PARADOX [DELSIN CD/LP]
A disappointment all in all, but worth checking for the superlative mood-piece ‘Globe’.
05: A MADE UP SOUND – ‘REWORK’ / ‘CLOSER’ [A MADE UP SOUND 12″]
The influence of UK funky and Untold’s refined dubstep-grime can be felt on this killer new release from Dave Huismans.
06: ROSKA – TWC EP [ROSKA KICKS AND SNARES 12″]
I’d kind of written off Roska to be honest, but this is next-level funky which aspires – perhaps unconsciously – to the condition of Detroit techno.
07: DJ JUS-ED – ‘STEP UP’ [UNDERGROUND QUALITY 12″]
Normally I pass up on overpriced UQ imports, but this is is just astonishing. Coming over like a pitched-down, baked-out Underground Resistance track, ‘Step Up’ has rightfully been picked up by Ben UFO and the more on-it post-dubstep DJs as well as the usual deep house bores.
08: HYETAL – ‘PIXEL RAINBOW SEQUENCE’ [REDUCTION 12″]
Peverelist continues to impress, delivering a remix that’s richly detailed but never cluttered; really, though, it’s the original that does it for me. Skewed dubstep-techno psychedelia done right.
09: EXCEPTER – ‘STRETCH’ (JG THIRWELL REMIX) [FRKWYS 12″] (Pictured above)
See main article.
10: SKANFROM – ‘ARE YOU ALONE’ [THE ALL-CLEAR 7″]
See main article.