August 2006 Archives
Nathan Fake. Click here to view flickr.
Thursday 23rd March 2006
ICA, The Mall, London
With a name like Nathan Fake, it sounds like he belongs to the electroclash set. And with his ruffled boyish looks, it looks like he belongs in a nu-wave indie rock band. Instead opting to spend his time staring into a computer sequencing interface has resulted in a clutch of distinctive sounding records. Climaxing with his well-received 'Drowning in a sea of love' long player.
I wasn't that enamored. Sounded like Four Tet goes house; the plinky-plonky melodies and skittering approach to rhythm just didn't have enough bite for me. But it seems to have more impact live, primarily due to the narrative-conscious visuals from Vincent Oliver. Intimate home video, abstract colourscapes and space-fixated effects are perfectly synchronised to Fake's altered playback. Elevating what would have been just another laptop performance to something resembling electronic storytelling.
Various Artists: Dreck/Reala Compil. (Dreck) - CD
My iTunes amusingly labeled this as 'Children's Music', but after running through the disc a few times, I reckoned Apple's categorisation policy might be more accurate than any words.
There's a simple charm to the bric-a-brac approach to beat construction and melody here. If there are any criticism to it, its the self-imposed palette they've restricted themselves to can be grating for an hour. Stylistically reminiscent of early Autechre, there's a delightful dated IDM circa 1995 feel to it all.
Pixel: Display (Raster Noton) - CD
Upbeat, melodic and pretty fun: characteristic's that you wouldn't normally apply to a Raster Noton release. Pixel (aka Jon Egeskov) takes the familiar palette of razor-sharp rhythmic ticks, excruciatingly high frequencies and ribcage rattling sub-bass and fashions five pieces of accessible, minimal funk. But you'll need a decent, balanced system for this.
Portable: Cycling (Background) - LP
In comparison to his recent album for ~scape and his work as Bodycode for Ghostly International, this release from 2003 is a lot more considered and restrained. His trademark motif of drum loops that echo Africa are intact but here seems less concerned with the dancefloor. Closer inspection of tracks like 'I dream of you dream of me' reveal an evident application of build and texture as well as rhythm.
Ricardo Villalobos: The Au Harem Du A'archimede (Perlon) - LP
A benchmark in heroin house if there ever was one. Beats drip, melody slithers and absolutely none of this would work on a dancefloor unless you were suitably (ahem) fueled. The shifts in mood and use of strange, organic effects run throughout the album edge further away from his other, beat-driven work. Certainly nothing like his celebrated 'Alcachofa' debut. Microhouse meets Psychedelia (micropsych, anyone?).
Steve Roden & Jason Kahn: Shimmer / Flicker / Waver / Quiver (Brombron) - CD
Released way back in November 2003, this is another gorgeously presented musical artifact from the Netherland's. Roden operates a range of acoustic / electric instruments whilst Kahn oversees laptop and synth. Together they deliver six tracks of 'microscopic, precise music'. Sonically this moves through such styles as ambient, drone, found sound and looped minimalism. One of those records where different details reveal themselves to you on repeated plays. Tag: Quiet.
Admittedly one of those albums I bought at the time but didn't really listen to as such was Silent Phase's 'The Theory of'. Purchased because everyone in my circle of friends that worshipped at the altar of the 'Motor City' did so. A joint release by Transmat and R&S in 1995, Silent Phase was one of the alter-ego's employed by second-wave Detroit techno artist Stacey Pullen.
I always aligned him with other black artists such as Kenny Larkin, Claude Young and (of course) Derrick May. But he avoids the minimalist streak of Young, the cross-city Chicago influence that occupied Larkin's output or May's otherworldliness. Focussing instead on reconfiguring the genres of house and garage to his own ends. Everything sounds infinitely optimistic and up, no bleak futurism's or introverted moments here ('Waterdance' and "Medative Fusion' do it for me.)
Later works under his own name might have delivered more polished sounding results (some of the EQ'ing on certain tracks is a bit suspect), but in terms of mood and emotion. It was and still is, pretty hard to top.
(I'd found the above mistakenly sitting inside a Windows'98 CD case that I was just about to chuck. Not an apt way for any CD to spend its dying moments in.)
Another lost CD that led to a visit to storage for records was Photek's problematic debut album 'Modus Operandi'. Had some great moments, but it's his early 12"s for Goldie's Metalheadz label that really do it. According to online resources, he was one of the main players in genre known as 'intelligent' drum'n bass.
I'd always side with John Peel in his comment that if there was 'intelligent' version of drum'n bass, he'd really like to hear 'stupid' version. Still, at a time when it was heavily dubbed up, turning into coffee-table lounge or still obsessed with Amen crackle and analogue warmth (no change there then). His records stood out as something different....I still feel the same way now.
They still sound futuristic and fucking fantastic.
They still appeal to people who can't stand drum'n bass.
There are definite musical routes that link him to the likes of Four Tet as well as the current Dubstep movement. A sparse, reductionist approach to everything. Crisp, digitally edited rhythm samples applied to hyper-detailed drum programming. Expert use of basslines with precision-timed bursts of low-end. And an over arching sense of paranoia and dread. Hardcore, but not happy.
It's so obvious he overdosed on electro and techno as a kid, but the influence of freeform jazz and fusion is a suprise. It all adds up to a canon of work that's yet to be surpassed. In a genre where releases date quickly, here are records that will stand the test of time.
You want specific tracks? Fair enough....
Photek: Ni-Ten-Ichi-Ryu (Two Swords Technique) - 1997
off 'Ni-Ten-Ichi-Ryu' (Science)
The New Musical Express amusingly re-titled this 'Ten Itchy Ryvitas' but they had the good sense to give it the single of the week accolade back in 1997 (at a time when they gave a shit about music). This is the sound of a swordfight remolded into a fierce piece of minimalist drive. Listen for the Japanese flute breakdown and an angrier closing quarter. Impressive video too.
Photek: KJZ - 1996
off 'The Hidden Camera' EP (Science)
I'm rendered speechless each time I hear this. The connections between jazz and drum'n bass were evident and exploited by everyone. But this is something else. Ever emerging layers of computer-created rhythm patterns eventually make way for a subtle ambient interlude before it all kicks off again. Possibly the best piece of electronic music to air-drum to.
Studio Pressure: The Water Margin - 1994
off 'The Water Margin / Fusion' 12" (Photek)
Released under his Studio Pressure alias, this came out before the two releases mentioned above and so isn't as brain-curdlingly complex. But it is a smart re-configuration of the sound of drum'n bass circa '94. Where shuffling breakbeats are slowly worn down before it spirals off into more interesting territories. This sounds both comfortingly familiar and pleasingly disjointed in equal measure.
That's Julien in the background. We'd corresponded over e-mail for a number of years when I ran Absorb. We finally met on the Acid on Sea boat party in August 2005. Thoroughly nice bloke and really posh (he's got a double-barreled surname). Julien runs Kultureflash, a cultural newsletter for London.
I can tell its a labour of love for him. The silly bugger has just spent the past 72 hours avoiding sleep to get the special summer issue out. Probably fueled through a mix of instant messaging and minimal techno.
Needless to say Kultureflash fucking rules. Beautifully presented (the images that headers the site are usually stunning) with a minimal approach to typography and layout allow for a clear read. A hand-picked digest of what's happening in London for the coming week. Film, art, fashion, talks and of course music. Grouped by day, with more links embedded in the previews than you care to mention.
It's exhaustive, entertaining and possibly the finest guide to cultural London there is online (TimeOut's website is still too clunky....well you try using it).
My involvement? Well, I'm a senior writer now. The senior probably referring to the fact that I'm older. I'd like to tell Julien that I carefully consider and thoroughly research all my write-ups, but that would be bullshit. What actually happens is that I initially agree to do them, then forget during the week and then knock'em out just before the issue is going to bed. For that I can only apologise. Deadlines and me don't see eye to eye.
Anyway. Sign up, immerse yourself and if you spot any really hackneyed journalist cliches in amongst the quality writing....you know who to blame.