Review: Skee Mask – ‘Compro’ (Ilian Tape) [Hyponik Magazine]

Bryan Müller belongs to a rare cult of producers who were excelling before they could legally enter a nightclub.  As ‘SCNTST,’ the Bavarian native found himself signed to Boyz Noize Records around the age of 17, and following some seminal albeit functional releases under this moniker, Müller got picked up by the Zenker Brothers, whose Munich-based label Illian Tape was quickly becoming one of the most unanimously respected projects in electronic music.  Conscious of how the media exposure he’d garnered up until that point had focused obsessively on his young age rather than his music, Müller donned the moniker Skee Mask, and began to release prodigiously under Ilian Tape, trading SCNTST’s euphoric synths for Skee Mask’s signature hazy pads and twisted drums.  Around that time seismic changes were being felt on the club circuit: tastes changed and diversified as moodier, Berghain-approved Techno loosened its grip, yielding to ‘revived’ styles from further afield.  As Jungle, Breaks and Electro found more of an audience in European circles, integrating them into Techno became more and more alluring for European producers.

Müller’s first few EP-length releases as Skee Mask did just that, quickly establishing him as a kind of Techno Wunderkind – ‘one to watch’.  Foreshadowing things to come, 2014’s ‘Serum’ EP boasted Müller’s potential as Skee Mask – its deftly programmed, stepping drum patterns and sub-aquatic, healing pads set a precedent for things to come.  A year later, after his second EP ‘Junt,’ was released, people started seriously talking — Müller’s ‘mysterious’ Skee Mask persona also became the subject of more and more speculation.  However exciting his music sounded, people thought they knew what to expect: hard-hitting, esoteric, bedroom-fantasist electronics focused on the dance floor.

This all changed in February 2016 when Müller totally exceeded expectations, putting out his first LP, ‘Shred.’  A mind-blowing tour de force, the album was met with universal praise from the moment it was released.  With ‘Shred,’ Müller asserted to the world what he was capable of when given more room for manoeuvre on an LP-length release.  Flawlessly waxing and waning in pace and intensity, underpinned by Müller’s masterful grasp of sound synthesis, ’Shred’ established a musical universe of its own; a never-ending landscape in monochrome.

In the two years since ‘Shred,’ Müller has put out another two EPs on his own ‘Ilian Skee’ series — ‘IS002’ and ‘2012’ – that further explored his penchant for sharp, floor-focused bangers. Adding his signature revitalizing touch to Jungle and Breaks, in an evermore ambitious range of tempos, tentatively trying his hand at a high-octane Jungle workout, ‘Skreet Level Dub,’ on his ‘2012’ release.  While these releases were hinting at new directions for Skee Mask, Müller had also been working on his second, hotly anticipated LP, ‘Compro,’ on Ilian Tape.

‘Compro,’ shows off Müller’s signature dexterity in programming drum loops at an almost schizophrenic range of tempos.  The majority of the album inhabits the 150-bpm-and-over category, whilst the few Jungle-influenced tunes with which the album is peppered (‘Kosmic Flush,’ being a highlight) contrast really well with slower ones like ‘Rev8617,’ (more of a hip hop beat than a floor-ready dance tune, complete with a meandering, blissful melody).  Although definitely more melodic than his previous work, the album certainly isn’t short of harder sounds: incisive breaks make several appearances, most effectively in ‘Dial 247,’ a deadly club-ready, zoned-out heater at a functional 132 BPM.  What is consistently stunning about ‘Compro’ (and Skee Mask’s music in general) is that remarkable grasp of distance.  The 6th track of the album, ‘Soundboy Ext.,’ shows this off flawlessly, contrasting a claustrophobic, somewhat manic drum loop with a boundlessly warming pad – that’s makes a Skee Mask track so unmistakable, the 3 Dimensional depth.

Somewhere on YouTube there’s a video of  Brian Eno sat in a studio with a BBC journalist, musing on a contentious topic: how exactly does a producer create a drum loop that doesn’t sound tedious, but ‘interesting,’ and ‘human?’  Still in his studio using some version of Logic, he demonstrates by splicing a generic stock drum loop into a more dynamic pattern, tweaking it to sound like a kind of free-form Jazz.  This kind of human touch, that makes great producers so much better than good producers really reveals itself in ‘Compro,’ both in the loose-wristed, uncannily ‘human’ feeling drums in ‘Calimance,’ and in the more regimented machine-rhythms of ‘Via Sub Mids,’ one of the most forward-thinking tracks on the album:  a brittle articulation of the newer pastures European producers are exploring with 170 electronica (think Copenhagen’s Rune Bagge).  In the midst of more and more nostalgic music that merely revives Jungle, Breaks or Hardcore, ‘Compro’ acts as a lesson on how to reshape those genres into something new.

When first listening to ‘Compro,’ it’s hard not to also have ‘Shred’ in your mind from the onset. Whether that’s a bad thing or not is up for debate. Something about listening to ‘Compro’ gives you that same awe-inspired feeling. With a project like Skee Mask, whose work comprises such idiosyncrasy, so many recurring motifs, it’d hardly be surprising if ‘Compro’ sounded more similar to ‘Shred’ than it does – the genius is that they’re not that similar-sounding at all.  Listening to ‘Compro,’ it’s clear that Müller’s boundaries have shifted: polyrhymic, more UK-enthused, doused in blissful, colourful melody, Müller has taken that same uniquely fluent Skee Mask touch to exciting new places.

Highly recommended listening.

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Review: Nokuit – Patterns of Perception (NKT Records – Loose Lips Magazine Nov. 2017

After last year’s ominously-entitled releases such as ‘Analysis Paralysis,’ and ‘Reality Disappears After Waking,’ elusive ambient producer Nokuit continues his foray into themes of hyper-modern dystopia with a new cassette, ‘Patterns of Instability,’ released via NKT. Nokuit’s 45 minute excursion is split into two equal length parts, allowing for plenty of digression and experimentation.5a20ae27a5066

At times resembling a schizophrenic quagmire of ambiguous samples, there’s an unmistakable smack of discontent, dislocation and dissociation to Part 1. Distorted soundbites are set against a rhythmic and orderly unravelling backdrop. Fragments of newsroom chatter, surveillance footage, and what sounds like a military execution are spliced together, bled of intelligible meaning amidst the disquieted abrasion of Nokult’s sound design.

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Whilst Part 2 seems less crowded, it is no less desolate. As longer swathes of ambient melancholy digress into a powerful wall of monochrome noise, the scrambled newsreel samples eventually reappear as a kind of dystopian leitmotif, tying the two drawn-out sides together.

Nokuit’s work exploits the uneasy contrast between musical order and human chaos, triggering a reflection on our own futile attempts at rationalizing ourselves, and the failure to map patterns onto our own instability.

 

 

Review: Pessimist – Pessimist LP (Hyponik magazine)

Electronic music has always had an uneasy relationship with genre. To a scene that thrives on defying its own parameters, on progressing forwards, stray too far into abiding by strict definitions and you’ll often veer into the realm of the overly literal purists. Some of the most famous flashpoints in the history of underground music have sprung from blind experimentation, from overwriting the past to pushing forwards (think ‘90s Jungle). What space does this leave for the crossovers, the genre-referential grey areas? Can producers not be mindful of genre, of context, yet also totally innovative? It takes rare moments of genius to prove that there are uncharted hinterlands between well-established genres, traversable to a gifted few yet totally alien to the rest of us. After hearing a debut album on Blackest Ever Black from Bristol’s own Kristian Jabs, better known as Pessimist, you’ll be sure of it.

Jabs’ recent productions have come at the crest of a new, scintillatingly experimental wave of change in the fault lines that make up electronic music. Key labels like Berlin’s Samurai Recordsand UVB-76 have spearheaded a reconfiguration of what’s traditionally been thought possible with music produced at 170 BPM, mapping stripped-back, monochromatic aesthetics traditionally under the ironclad remit of Techno onto a more malleable DnB or Jungle beat-pattern. From his 2015 release, The Woods / Lead Foot on Samurai, to last year’s Balaklava EP on Osiris Music, this fusion developed within Pessimist’s own discography. Disparate elements edged closer together with more fluency — where stepping, gun-finger techno and thunderously pulsating jungle merely mutated together on ‘The Woods,’ by the time Jabs’ Pagans EP was released a few years later, these sounds became fused together into something more dynamically modern.

Pessimist’s eponymous showcase album is comprised of 10 tracks, arranged to emphasise the cinematic, narrative quality of his sound. Portentously murky openers like ‘Grit,’ and ‘Bloom,’ digress through radioactive yet brooding dystopia of ‘Spirals,’ or ‘Glued’. The ebb and flow of the album is underpinned by ‘War Cry,’ a yawning excursion into the producer’s ambient capabilities, only for more up-tempo twisted Jungle trips to re-emerge with dizzying hysteria on ‘Through The Fog.’ The scale of Pessimist’s achievement is not only in the total uniqueness of his production, but also in the flawlessly operatic arrangement of the album itself. As ‘Outro,’ plays, a track suitably delicate for re-entering normal life, it’s hard to shake the impression that Pessimist’s album is something exceptional: a compound expression not only of underground music in its most holistic form, but also of a dextrous production style that somehow makes it all sound easy. Pessimist makes music that sheds the tired limitations of genre-clichés, augmenting them instead to create something entirely new. Essential listening from a remarkable producer.

 

Review: D Glare – ‘4 Oscillators & 130 Samples at 130 BPM’ [Opal Tapes] (Loose Lips – 23/04/2017)

Many of us are familiar with Opal Tapes, the multifaceted brainchild of Stephen Bishop. The synthesis of post-punk industrial sound-design with less abstract House and Techno has attracted a devoted following since the label’s humble beginnings in his Teesside bedroom. Leftfield, warped interpretations of these styles form the lion’s share of the label’s extensive catalogue, a subversive musical in-between that’s neither dance music, nor instrumental. Fuelled by Bishop’s own sustained loyalty to the cassette tape, Opal Tapes’ signature sound nostalgically revives this clunky medium’s whirring machinations, its faulty imperfection.

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Somewhat less is known about ‘D Glare,’ whose one previous release on the label, ’68 Samples at 68 BPM for Phased Heads’ is packed with trance-inducing feedback. Apart from this, there is little information available, leaving only the music and its unassuming title. Their latest venture is nothing less: a 4-sided LP comprised of yawning, enveloping distortion. Drawn-out, granulated loops form the backbone of each side, with disintegrating sound textures that insist upon a sense of imperfection: drone-like, but not uniform, a tangible ambiguity pervades each 20-minute track. Less abstract musical forms (psychedelic guitar-chords, semi-muted symbols and snares) also make disjointed appearances. The listener remains adrift in a derelict soundscape, denied the consistency we are taught to expect from commercial genres. Later excursions into syncopating polyrhythms ebb and flow to give the album’s closing stages an organic quality, fluctuating in tangibility.

D Glare’s odyssey into this abstract environment is totally unique in that it consistently defies expectations: where it begins to seem instrumental, it escapes into the intangibility of drone-like monotones; where it begins to sound like common-or-garden electronica, it teases you with its innately human inconsistencies. Highly recommended listening from a truly individual label.

 

Review: Varg – Gore Tex City [Northern Electronics] (Resonance, 31/05/2017)

To an ambivalent listener, Techno music seems homogenous.  Its unwavering and repetitive minimalism, you could claim, leaves no place for the things that make music ‘human.’ Where is the imperfection, the variety, the sense of narrative?  How can something so unsentimental make you feel anything?  I may not have any ‘answers’ to these questions in the conventional sense, but somewhere around halfway through listening to ‘Gore-Tex City,’ Its clear that the Swedish producer Varg certainly does.

This EP is a masterful exercise in the kind of ‘sound’ Northern Electronics have diligently cultivated in their 5-years of releasing music. Driving, syncopated drum-patterns and mournful pads: a sense of unmistakably ‘Nordic’ desolation.  You imagine monochrome Swedish tundra, cloudy skies, perhaps even especially bleak scenes from ‘The Killing.’  Varg’s productions seem to encapsulate the paradoxical brilliance of Techno music: he gives us a sense of place, a context, but no emotional message.  We are not told how to feel.

It’s the array of guest appearances from other Swedish artists that make this album truly special, most amazingly that of millennial ‘mumble-rap’ heartthrob Yung Lean.

His chorus on ‘Red Line II (127 Sätra C)’ fuses two sounds I’d thought were totally incompatible, Varg’s transcendent techno trips with Lean’s brooding monotones.  The result is a drawn-out masterpiece, galvanised on Xanax.

Varg’s ‘Gore Tex City’ was released on March 30 2017 on Northern Electrics and is highly recommended listening for dance-floors, solitary walks or other such transitory scenarios.

Review: Cero39 – ‘Mis Tierras Calientes’ (Loose Lips – 02/06/2017)

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Seb Jenkins and Liam Nolan first met whilst working at Ninja Tune, a project started back in 1990 as an attempt to break the monopoly of commercial record labels and to showcase alternative international sounds. After spending several years in Bogota and Berlin respectively, Seb and Liam have since reconnected through Big in Japan, a label channelling that same drive to shed light on different sounds from exciting places. One of their first releases is an EP from native Columbians Cero39, hailed as one of the country’s most up-and-coming acts. In 2016 Thump Colombia listed their album ‘Moni Moni,’ on their favourite releases that year, and the group played at this year’s Glastonbury festival after being spotted by a booking agent in Bogota. The duo’s ‘tropical alternative’ vibe falls somewhere between Hip-Hop, Latin and Dub Reggae, with infectious results. ‘Moni Moni,’ is a sunkissed, creatively produced album which fills your mind with Latin-Caribbean flavours, whilst guest vocals are varied and engaging. The spliced production style fits its cross-cultural identity, a natural fit for Big in Japan’s mission statement.

Cero39’s offering to Big in Japan, ‘Mi Tierra,’ or ‘My Country,’ presents itself as a tribute to their native Colombia. With each track named after a different part of the country, not much is left for us to speculate over what the EP is trying to accomplish: a holistic picture of Colombia’s bustling variety, conjured by a diverse array of drum patterns and production methods. Bearing this in mind, it’s quite surprising how little actual substance there is – this release just doesn’t seem as characteristic as the group’s other work. Granted, between the languishing guitar-chords of ‘Boni Veloni’ and the dub-fused trap beat on ‘Colmado’ there is musical variety, but compared to Cero39’s earlier work something does seem to be missing. ‘Murcura,’ the EP’s opening track, seems confusingly under-produced when not accompanied with any vocals. There is a faint hint of Cero39’s colourfully energetic Latin flourish on ‘Bacalao Imperial,’ which is definitely a highlight on the EP, but it seems hindered yet again by stripped-back production which at times sounds very commercial, like beach-bar electro-house.

A sense of narrative is not totally lost throughout ‘Mi Tierra’, and as the album’s increasingly diverse use of synths and live instrumentals come into play, it does make for an interesting listen at times. The somewhat forced attempts to contextualise itself do detract from the group’s strengths, and for a better representation of Cero39’s sound, it’s definitely worth checking out other releases or catching them at one of their many festival appearances this summer.l

Review: Willie Burns & DJ Overdose – Sonny & Ricardo Give Good Advice (Loose Lips, 1/4/2017)

This March saw L.I.E.S. regular Willie Burns link up with venerable electro big-hitter DJ Overdose to put out ‘Sonny and Ricardo Give Good Advice,’ on Unknown to the Unknown. It’s a killer house anthem that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The two versions of the same track, both laced with a playfully repetitive vocal loop instructing you to ‘take drugs,’ risk sounding unforgivably tasteless (Like DJ Koze’s ‘XTC’), but instead get away with being infectiously tongue-in-cheek.

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Functional and unpretentious, it really is the ideal locked-groove and a floor-oriented record. Although the hazy aesthetic does risk flogging the ‘Lo-Fi’ dead horse at times, it is ultimately redeemed by the jacking catchiness. The tripped-out 303 acid line which is jammed into the ‘Beat Mix,’ on the B-side gives it a haphazardly retro feel. In keeping with the authenticity of Unknown to the Unknown’s sound, it’s still a record you can’t help but imagine blowing the dust off of before you play it, a well-executed homage to Chicago.

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Event Review: Dax J at the Mash House, Edinburgh (The Student Magazine, 14/08/2016)

With Dax J’s allegiance to techno music scarcely spanning back two years, (his debut solo EP Shades of Black hit the shelves in November 2015) it’s no surprise that his sets borrow heavily from his much longer-spanning musical background: London’s drum & bass sound that characterised the city’s nightlife from the late ‘90s onwards.  Scarcely caught playing anything lower than 135bpm, Dax channels the high-octane, ‘ravier,’ side of dance music that was prevalent in the ‘break-beat Britain,’ of his youth, giving it a much-needed home in the often pretentious world of 4×4 techno.  The staccato kick-drums, dystopian vocal samples and drawn-out symbols in his production virtually tell his story better than words:  that of a London-born techno-convert in Berlin, making waves in all the right places.

‘Pulse,’ will have been a bastion of Edinburgh’s nightlife for seven years come November, enjoying a well-earned reputation for bringing a menagerie of acts to the cobbled streets on a regular basis.  From Berghain curators Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann to Ostgut Ton residents Ryan Elliot and Kobosil, in the last year alone, Pulse’s co-owners have carried the torch for serious underground music in the capital for years, doing untold good for Edinburgh’s reputation as a credible scene. This time Pulse worked alongside fellow underground collective ‘Disorder,’ who’ve brought David Meiser to the Mash House this year, and will be working with Pulse again to bring Spanish techno heavyweight Oscar Mulero there next month. Dax J, then, was a long-awaited booking from the two club nights that many of its regulars had guessed was perhaps only a matter of time:  with three slamming EPs in the last year alone, several Berghain appearances under his belt, Dax J is the epitome of the kind of artists that Pulse regularly strive to offer its crowd of regulars: relevant, critically-acclaimed, sufficiently relentless techno.

The night itself far exceeded these expectations as Edinburgh was given its first ever treatment to the apocalyptic, explosively energised sounds of the Berlin-based producer.  Selections from Dax J’s recent collaboration with Cleric, “Lost In Bermuda,” as well as his own latest EP Illusions of Power, sustained the frenzied energy in the room whilst cries of ‘one more tune,’ were gratefully fulfilled at the end of the night.

The difficulties in filling a room on the Cowgate are well-known – there often aren’t enough clubbers to keep all of Edinburgh’s nights comfortably afloat, this being doubly true for harsher, less commercial music.  With this in mind, the sheer size of the crowd who not only turned up to Pulse, but clearly enjoyed the music as far more than a novelty, is a testament not only to the pulling-power of Pulse’s bookings, but also to the reputation they’ve nurtured over the years.

The other clear victory of the night goes to the venue itself.  The Mash House, a long-time favourite for some of Edinburgh’s smaller parties, has rightly exploded in popularity recently as more and more promoters have seen it for what it is – an intimate, simple space with a killer soundsystem and smart visual installations.  Pulse’s booking was brilliantly accommodated by The Mash House, with even bigger, better bookings to come in coming months.

Review: Roman Fluegel’s ‘All the Right Noises’ (The Student Magazine – 14/11/2016)

The fundamental duality of electronic music lies in the fact that while being crowd-orientated in nature, it still insists on being artistically expressive. A consequence of this is that higher-brow ‘IDM,’ or ‘Intelligent Dance Music,’ doesn’t always resemble House or Techno; the two seem almost antithetical to each other. It takes talented producers to reveal that dance music can articulate beauty beyond 4×4 beat-patterns without turning its back on them; that there is in fact, a harmonious relationship between both club and ambient music. For few others does this talent show itself so readily than in the work of producer Roman Flügel, whose recent EP, All the Right Noises, is a lesson in electronic music.

Whilst many would look to Berlin as the beating heart of German techno music, it’s worth remembering that when it comes to softer-sounding Electronica, the smaller cities have been key to shaping the musical landscape of the country for decades. Experimental pioneers Atom™ and Ulrich Schnauss, for example, started off in Frankfurt and Kiel respectively, while Brian Eno’s electronic masterpiece Music for Airports, was made in Cologne, influencing virtually any Electronica EP made since. This legacy resonates throughout Frankfurt-born Flügel work, whose formal musical education, enthused with a sincere passion for electronic music, has made him world-renowned as a club DJ.

Flügel’s All the Right Noises leads the listener on an odyssey through his myriad musical influences with effortless continuity: this is an EP meant to be listened to in one sitting. Beat-less, often instrumental pieces like ‘Fantasy,’ and ‘Believers,’ are woven delicately into rolling 4×4 tracks like ‘Warm and Dewy,’ a 130bpm drum-track that a lesser producer would struggle to fit into a largely ambient album. This mercurial, ambiguous album creates a sense of nostalgia that avoids being straight-forwardly sentimental. Never staying in one place, All the Right Noises is a polyrhythmic fusion of dance and experimental styles of electronic music that is neither pretentious nor straightforward, neither ‘coffee-table,’ techno designed for discerning audiophiles to scratch their chins over, nor a simplistic dance EP that tells you how to feel. Essential listening.r flug

Khan of Finland ,,Nicht Nur Sex” review – Loose Lips 30/03/2017

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2017 marks the 20th Anniversary of Shitkatapult, a German label co-founded by electro-pop pioneer Marco Haas alongside Sacha Ring, perhaps better known as Apperat. Exploring different aspects of both electronic and instrumental music, the label has attracted interest over the years for its eccentric fusion of popular and alternative styles, from ‘synthier’ pop tunes reminiscent of the 1980s to harder Techno and IDM. Its character is reflected in the sizeable repertoire of German-based trio Kahn of Finland’s frontman, suggestively-named Can Oral.  Both a vocalist and guitarist as well as a producer, his latest album, ‘Nicht nur Sex’ straddles the boundary between electronic and instrumental music, shedding light on that universally-known convergence point between themes of consumerism, physical and emotional attraction: the ‘in-between,’ of sexuality.

 

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An experiment in musical diversity, the album epitomises the multilingual, cosmopolitan soundscape of Berlin that has played host to Kahn’s events in the past. A host of guest artists including Mexican rapper Alemán, Icelandic producer Urður and the Tom Waits-esque ‘narrator,’ figure Joe Volume add enormous depth to Kahn’s already extensive musical influences. These alienated, displaced voices make regular appearances throughout the album, giving it a continuous, operatic feel – this is definitely an album designed to be listened to all the way through.  Its eclecticism doesn’t stifle the album’s unmistakably German, campish sass however, although the groovier, more traditional instrumentals like ‘Khant Buy Love’ quickly descend into more subversively dubbed-out rhythms, that manage to somehow both be relaxing and disconcerting at the same time. Despite its predictable ‘anti-capitalist’ message, ‘H&M Freedom’ nicely plateaus the flow of things after the fiery Spanish-language rap of ‘Funky Dollar Bills’ for example. So much variety would be difficult to hold together for any musical ensemble, let alone one this bizarre, so credit lies at Kahn’s door for pulling off some sense of consistency, however ponderous and slow its dub-like elements may eventually feel. Kahn’s project feels succinct and coherent.

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‘Nicht nur sex’ is more than a title. A cry from the artist himself taken from gay internet forum, ‘Gayromeo’ stays fixed in your mind as you make your way through the album.  A nod to the LBGT community with its diversity of lifestyles, identities and preferences, the phrase reverberates through each track. With titles like ‘Hold me Tender’ ‘Should I Give You Up’ or ’Khant Buy Me Love’, Khan is teasing at a dilemma blighting modern identities: that of expressing culture through a sexual aesthetic, exploring the relationship between sex and sexuality.