There are few things more difficult, unrewarding and unnecessary than an ‘exhaustive’ narrative trawl through a year gone by, but given that I find myself, for the first time in five months, relaxed, sober and (some would say) sharp enough actually post on this blog at all, I may as well do my best to make it a beast. Those of you who despair of my dense, unformatted, syntactically suspect musings and just want some new minimal mp3s, well, I apologize.
What follows, then, is my ‘review’ of 2006.
I must confess, I began this year as something of a naysayer as regards 2006's potential for blossoming into a vintage for underground house, techno and the like. 2005 had, after all, beamed us such era-defining classics as Ame's 'Rej', Booka Shade's 'Mandarine Girl' and Gui Boratto's 'Arquipelago' – all tunes that arrived with minimum fanfare but delivered maximum impact (with aftershocks and re-licensings still being felt/endured). Even after ‘Body Language’’s offputting receipt of Track of the Season and the wall-to-wall ubiquity of ‘Mandarine Girl’, many folks, myself included, had Get Physical down as THE European label to watch, justified as much by lower-key offerings from M.A.N.D.Y and DJ T as the ‘Shade’s tub-thumping anthems. So back at the beginning of the year I, like many, looked to the Berlin-based stable to set the tone. This, I realize now, was a mistake. Though the Physical chaps finished the year in fine style (I think in particular of the overrated – but still excellent – Fuckpony LP, and the correspondingly underrated 12” offering from Heidi & Riton, 'Vejer'), they kicked off the year rather inauspiciously. The thing is, Booka Shade are such consummate engineers, that there's scarcely a single Get Physical track that sounds weak. What was lacking, then, was that essential sparkle, that sense (or illusion) of…newness. Jona's stylish, melodic 'Learning From Making Mistakes' made all the right noises, but hardly packed the gut-punch of a 'Panoramic' or a 'Jah'. Likewise, the highly-anticipated (and, again, hugely overrated) Booka Shade LP, Movements, impressed with its bottom line production quality, but failed to deliver anything particularly surpising (and am I alone in thinking those extended album versions of ‘Mandarine Girl’ and ‘Body Language’ were dreadful? If it ain’t broke, etc…). Of course, tracks like 'Night Falls' and 'In White Rooms' were a pleasure to listen to and wreaked all manner of havoc across the globe's dancefloors in the ensuing months, but I must stress once again that for me they didn't really…excite.
What of the other tried and trusted labels? Well, Kompakt. Kompakt, Kompakt, Kompakt. Seemingly locked into a sub-dividing pattern that reminds me of GCSE Biology diagram depictions of mitosis (or is it meiosis?), 2007 saw the arrival of Kom3, a digital subsidiary to sit (but, thankfully, not file) alongside Speicher, Kompakt Pop, Immer and K2. Ah yes, K2. After a blistering first innings last year that brought us belters like ‘Arquipelago’ and Hug’s ‘Fluteorgie’, the sub-label’s offerings seemed all grinding anyonymity, nothing to write home about. Carnage, and plenty of others, really dug Gui Boratto’s ‘Sozinho’, but I wasn’t so sure; and his recent ‘Gate 7’ 12” was, I felt, properly wank. No great matter – I continue to get a kick out of hearing ‘Arquipelago’, and I direct you to his remix of (the unpromisingly named) Guy J & Shahar Z’s ‘Hazui’ (Electribe) for proof that the Brazilian has talent to spare. The Rice Twins' Speicher offering didn’t especially float my boat, but their 12” for K2 most definitely did, particularly the track ‘For Dan’ – easily K2’s greatest ’06 offspring. What about Hug, incidentally? 2006 was the year I sorta just stopped buying anything made by John Dahlback, as much out of protest as financial strain. 2005 saw Jesper’s younger brother literally flooding the racks with productions that ranged from the sublime (‘Pop it Bad’, ‘The Happy Monster’) to the total rubbish (most of the rest). This year he seemed to slow down a little, perhaps now wise enough to have learned that being insanely prolific is a quick but ultimately shallow way to win oneself an audience - quality not quantity, etc. I look forward to his forthcoming LP for Kompakt proper, due around February. While we’re on the subject of Kompakt proper, what did Koln Central Command serve up for our platters this year? Well, after initially ignoring it (absurdly high expectations after the double-wonder of ‘Elan’/ ‘Taste’ – a record that really changed the way I think about house msic – last year), I fell in love with Justus Kohncke’s rollicking disco-houser ‘Advance’. Really tough drums, spangly guitar licks, robotic synth stabs, blah, but what launches this record into space is the absolutely euphoric, ocean-deep breakdown and its slight but significant tinkering with standard house structure (the drop arrives well before the breakdown bids adieu) and, I suppose, above all, just the heroic harnessing of terrific synthetic sound that remains the hallmark of all good Kompakt records. It’d be rude not to mention Michael Mayer’s Immer 2 compilation; the conditions hardly exist for this comp to attain the seminal status of its predecessor (or even his three-year agenda-setting Fabric mix), but my, it’s a beauty all the same. Some strict disciples of the quintessential Cologne-trance sound have expressed mild dismay at the disco-heavy middle-section of this lengthy, minimal-to-maximal selection, but I can’t help but feel it’s that section that gives the comp its character. I know a few minimally-disinclined heads who’ve been loving Immer 2 as office and home listening, which should provide all the reassurance you need that the CD carries as many hooks and wooshes as you’d expect from the mighty M.M. (if, incidentally, you missed our interview with Mayer back in October, you’d do well to check the archives). Elsewhere, I’m still really enjoying the Pop Ambient 2007 CD – it hardly breaks the mould, but will stuff your brain with a load of dreamy Kompakt cotton-wool to keep the cold and demons at bay (The Field’s ‘Kappsta’, driven by a soft but sure 4x4 thud, Gas’s resurfaced ‘Nach 1912’ and Klimek’s divine ‘Ruined in a Day (Buenos Aires)’ are my highlights, but really you want to take ‘em all on board as a whole). K2 stole Kompakt Extra’s thunder in 2005 (though I’ve yet to properly discern what’s so different about them), but the latter, time-honoured imprint was heartily revived over the last twelve months. I spent about a day thinking Oxia’s ‘Domino’ was the greatest thing I’d ever heard, until one of you dear readers pointed out that it’s a wholesale (though not necessarily deliberate) rip-off of Patrick Chardronnet’s flawless ‘Eve By Day’ (which still, I feel, doesn’t get the props it deserves. Get a copy if you haven’t already.) And though I’ve since heard ‘Domino’ getting a rapturous response everywhere it’s played out, I for one have no time for it – house music is repetitive enough without producers outright copying each other, fuck’s sake. ‘Transparanza’, which came courtesy of Reinhard Voigt and Michael Mayer, was a short-term club hit thanks to its irresistible ascending riff and rave sirens, but didn’t really have the meat or ingenuity to constitute a classic. My favourite Speicher was probably 41, both sides by Axel Bartsch, with the B1 ‘Shifting’ of particular note – a noirish, undulating cut of tech-house perfect for bedroom, dancefloor and commute (Axel’s militant trancer ‘Redlight’ on the main Kompakt label is also worth a sniff). One Kompakt ‘product’ that I’ve fallen in love with only recently is actually from 2005 - Matias Aguayo’s album, a perfect suite of gritty tech-disco garnished with vocals that are characterful without being overbearing. I love that shit. Kompakt Pop has been quiet in 2006, bringing us only Gui Boratto’s ‘Like You’, with that Supermayer remix that has its fans but was a little too gushing even for me. Speaking of Supermayer, Michael & Axel provided one of my top nights out of their year, with their Stink set at T-Bar last month, a night which will forever be known to Lazerboy and I (if no one else) as Pitch in the ‘Ditch. Stink has been a pretty consistent provider of quality nights in the last year, in London anyway. At the beginning of the year we caught DJ Koze playing all sorts (including that Pepe Bradock mix of Candi Staton – a bona fide TAPE/Puffin Jack classic) alongside Lazarus (dropping ‘Midnight Request Line’ – which now, in a world where Retardo is remixing Shackleton, seems an impossibly quaint instance of ‘cross-pollenation’ (more on the dubstep-techno interface to come)).
A couple of months later, Carnage and I passed a delightful two hours listening to Luciano spin at one of T’s Fabric afterparties, one of my favourite sets of the year and the first (and, come to think of it, last) time I heard ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ out. Blinding. Luciano. If there’s one thing if I haven’t done enough in 2006, it’s hear Luciano DJ (pretty stupid, given the frequency with which he graces London’s turntables). The man is UNBELIEVABLE; the last time he blew my small and pickled mind was my birthday in August, where he near took the roof of Fabric with his usual, impossibly kinetic sounds (I seem to remember some languid female acapella over the top of Microfunk’s well squelchy 'Pecan' (Remote Area) sending me, and everyone, totally potty). Production-wise as well, 2006 has been a good’n for the Swiss-born Chilean. His absolutely epic, border-crashing remix of Malean spiritual wailer (no, that’s not a technical term) Salif Keita’s ‘Yamore’ first turned up a while back on a super-expensive Keita boxset, and had a remained a relatively unknown gem until its welcome proper release on a Cadenza 12” at the start of this year. As is invariably the case with Luciano, it sounded simultaneously timeless and way ahead of its time. Mssr Nicolet also teamed up with Thomas Melchior for the way deep ‘Father’/’Solomon’s Prayer’ 12”, and provided some ultra-satisfying rhythmic abstraction for the latest For Disco Only. His ‘EAT’ track for Diamonds & Pearls is also worth checking, but it’s another golden oldie – ‘Amelie on Ice', which finally got re-pressed this autumn, that you really want. Remix 2, in particular, which makes full use of the film’s lush orchestral theme, does the business; though I’m told by one informant that it pales in comparison to the dub of the same track which has, to his knowledge, appeared only as part of a Luciano live bootleg CD (I think). Seeking that disc out is very much on my new year’s list of things to do. I didn’t actually get round to hearing his Sci:Fi:Hi:Fi mix, I can’t imagine I’m missing that much – as the man himself says in a DJmag interview I re-read t’other day – he’s way, way better when playing to a crowd. Alex Smoke’s contribution to the SciFiHiFi series was notable mainly for some cack mixing and jarring stylistic shifts (‘See Mi Version’ into Gaiser’s roughneck version of ’25 Bitches’, anyone?), but I loved it for bringing to my attention some deep classics that I should’ve known but didn’t (Model 500’s ‘M69 Starlight’ and Brinkmann’s ‘Xenia’) and some wiry Vakant kickers. Elsewhere in the world of Smoke, hmm, that Lusine mix of ‘Make My Day’ was pretty smart, while the plaintive, heartbreaking Ada mix of ‘Never Want To See You Again’ was a glaring omission from my Top 100 of 2006 list.
Okay. What else? This is exhausting. We better deal with Loco Dice. I began the year thinking he was just some minimal opportunist overhyped by the Miami/Ibiza axis of evil (there are respectable axes to Miami/Ibiza, obviously). Then came ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ (M-nus). I can’t really describe this track at all adequately, and every time I do I seem to use the word ‘chicaning’ to describe its absolutely CRACKING melody. And those snap claps, oh, this track just totally nailed it for me – a perfectly formed, paradigm-nudging techno beaut to call our own. I wasn’t desperately impressed by Dice’s set at the Phonica party, but that’s probably ‘cos I was (not by my volition) sober as a judge and because, well, I hate the crowd you seem to get in the Key these days. But anyway, I wasn’t impressed, and so I sort of forgot about him. Then, thanks to a sterling summertime Proton Radio mix by Matthew Styles (one of my favourite mixes of the year, combining the likes of Shackleton, Cassy and Franck Roger before everyone was at it, and - to my mind at least - a fucksight better than the Rebels’ Get Lost double CD), I really fell for le Dice’s ‘Flight LB7475’, despite it being on, ahem, Ovum. This woozy tech-house cruiser has been an understated staple at a lot of parties I’ve attended in the last six months, and probably has a bigger place in my heart than I’d like to admit. The ‘Harissa’ doublepack for Cadenza is, without doubt, remarkable for its unwaveringly fine, slick production quality (hail Buttrich) across four long sides, but there’s nothing on there that I'd call unforgettable. That said, I have been loving the grotty, spidery groove of ‘Raindrops on my Window Pane’ which takes its melodic cue from ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ and froths itself up nicely before unleasing some heavy tech-funk drops. It’s ‘The Porcupine’, however, produced as Latex for Crosstown’s Rebelone imprint, that does the most dancefloor damage – that slinky xylophone melody, that brazen synth motif…Proper house heaven (honestly, Puffin). Speaking of house heaven, I don’t need to tell you how good Martin Buttrich’s ‘Full Clip’ is. So poised and deep and absorbing that you’re liable to forget what day it is when you’re listening, this sounded like a lost Carl Craig track from the 90s, but with an intensity that’s all 2006. Also on Planet E, Vince Watson’s ‘Renaissance’, which I hear good things about but which hasn’t excited me enough to actually reach inside my wallet and buy a copy. Carl Craig. Oh yeah, ‘Relevee’. You definitely don’t need telling about that remix – which I occasionally find myself thinking is a tad overrated until I hear again that echoed snapclap and booming piano line and, oh, it’s marvellous, let’s face it. 2006 was definitely the year when Carl Craig got his due from all us young whippersnappers who spent our childhoods thinking ‘techno’ began and ended with 2Unlimited. As such, we’ve been raiding the man’s back catalogue (that sounds like a euphemism for bumming, doesn’t it?) with considerable relish – off the top of my head, the Japanese version of ‘Angel’ (with its unexpected and totally devastating proto-electro-house drop towards the end) or even his full-fat mix of Terry Brookes’ ‘City Life’ from late last year, are both on heavy rotation right now. More contemporary concerns were his artful reshaping of Rhythm & Sound’s thoroughly depressing ‘Poor People Must Work’, his techy version of X-Press 2’s ‘Kill 100’ (which still sounds a bit dodgy to me) and, on a less po-faced note, the stomping party-funk of Tres Demented’s ‘Shez Satan’. That last track brushed aside my comedown as if it were dust when Prins Thomas dropped it back at June’s Output party in Barcelona. If I remember correctly, he mixed it out of Rub-N-Tug’s re-edit of Sly Mongoose’s ‘Snakes & Ladders’, surely THE party tune of the year – totally, totally joyous, I’m not sure if I’ll ever get tired of hearing that Balearic breakdown, that ridiculous piano solo, well, the whole damn thing…a proper oddball classic, no question. While we’re talking of Output, commiserations once again to Trevor Jackson for the label’s untimely demise, but moreover congratulations for achieving what you did in its lifetime, and for giving us some really rather special records. I was all over the Playgroup mix of Telex’s ‘On The Road Again’, but I can’t even remember if it was released this year or last...Prins and Lindstrom continued their journey up through the disco cosmos…I was talking to a real disco bore the other day, you know, immaculate taste, but purist to the point of putrefaction, who dismissed Lindstrom entirely (“ ‘I Feel Space’? Rubbish’”) and made me question, for all of three seconds, whether I’m overly indulgent of the bearded Norwegian and his productions. Well, no, I don’t think I am. There is a definite, occasional sameyness to the mixes that he and Thomas dish up, but the misses are worth forgiving for the hits.. ‘The Contemporary Fix’- essentially fat electro-disco injected with Spaghetti western rocket fuel – was a total slayer, and indeed when Hans-Peter finished his blistering laptop set at the Fabric b'day party with it, he managed to make the Farringdon hangar feel, for six or seven blissful minutes, like a modern day Studio 54. Then it finished, and you realized how very much NOT the case that was. I really liked his heavy, pitched-up mix of Telex’s ‘Do Worry’, another sure shot for the dancefloor. The ‘wow’ release from this whole sphere was not, as some had justifiably imagined, Harvey’s mix of ‘Music (In My Mind)’, but rather Todd Terje’s technicolour euro-disco melody-steeped re-rub of ‘Another Station’ which, as those unsatisfactory compound adjectives attest, defies description. You know how good it is, yes, REALLY fucking good. I didn’t chase after too many of the Terje edits that emerged this year (a bit of a case of John Dahlbackitis), but obviously that ‘Diamonds Dub’ fattening up of Paul Simon really hit the spot (and, hello, if anyone has an mp3 of his top-notch ‘Aquarius’ re-edit, I’d be most grateful for a YSI or suchlike – don’t know what’s happened to mine…). Prins Thomas did a wonderfully druggy, chugging (drug chug? No? No.) version of Toby Tobias’s ‘Close Shave’ for Rekids, and his remix of Stephen Malkmus, while not being among his best, was enough of a minor pop-cultural artefact to justify purchase. Not forgetting ‘Fehrara’ on militantly Norse Full Pupp, which was, well, very decent indeed, as smooth-running and handsome as its automotive near-namesake. Look out for Thomas’s mix of They Came From The Stars I Saw Them on This is Not an Exit, the label run by fellow blogger and good egg Simon Carr. See also the limited Optimo remix of TCFTSIST’s debut single, ‘It’s Time’, still (I think) available at Phonica.
Deep breath. Rekids/Rekid/Radio Slave. I mean, fucking hell, Matt Edwards has been so busy this year, I mean SO busy, that there are innumerable remixes and productions he’s issued that I haven’t heard, and in some cases don’t know exist (that pesky Dahlbackitis, again). Let’s stick to what I do know. ‘My Bleep’, well, I really didn’t feel it to begin with, then my heart was melted a little by Roman Flugel’s sehr slick mix, before I fell in love properly with the original and realized it was a bit of a rave monster and I should’ve adored it all along. Sometimes you have to take the long way round. Obviously there was that stonking, stalking dark-pop reshaping of Chelonis’s ‘Deer in the Headlights’ (I still swear by the Hell remix, but every wise man I say that to tells me to shut up, and I think they’re probably right), but for me it was all about Made in Menorca, the Rekid LP for Soul Jazz. This album proved to be a lightning rod for the rest of the year’s musical happenings, with its dense, dubby soundscapes, ethereal Balearic grooves and menacing nu-italo synth attacks, not to mention a few instances of gritty, slomo hip hop. It’s a terrific record, and while things tail off towards the end, you won’t regret parting with your hard-earned for it.
And so it continues. 2006 was a good year, wasn’t it? And we’ve barely begun. Best deal with that whole dubstep ‘thing’. Well, for a better informed overview, you should check Puffin’s post below, but I’ll mention some notables anyway. 2006 began with most of us just about cottoning onto the work of teenage Croydonite Skream, and his crossover track ‘Midnight Request Line’ continued to cross over long after its author had moved on. I didn’t pick up the brilliantly titled (and sleeved) Skream! LP myself; Skreamizm Vols. 1 and 2 were more than enough to satisfy, sporting as they did the likes of ‘Lightning’ and ‘Morning Blues’. It was ‘Bahl Fwd’, though, recorded for Bristolian Pinch’s Tectonic label, that took the proverbial biscuit - the insane hi-speed tabla line, the inane synth melody and all the bass weight you could reasonably ask for. On the flip of this very Tectonic plate you could find the moody, Eastern-infused ‘Temptation’ by Distance, definitely a producer to watch. Meanwhile, Pinch himself released the instantly classic ‘Qawaali’, a ludicrously deep, reflective piece of music (with the smartest drum programming I’ve ever heard on a dubstep record - those snapclaps, woah) this 12” for Planet Mu posited Pinch as natural inheritor and developer of Bristol’s hefty downbeat legacy. I don’t think that anywhere near enough people have heard this record, and it’s now pretty difficult to bag a copy in the UK; Hardwax in Berlin still have some left though, so dig in. When it came to the deeper, abstract climes of dubstep, it was all about Shackleton – the Skull Disco boy fashioned the utterly seminal ‘Hamas Rule’ – a record, along with, say, ‘Fizheuer Zieheuer’ (yeah, we’ll get to that) which sounds as if it could ONLY have been made in 2006, and is totally menacing to boot. This, along with its predecessor ‘Blood On My Hands’, found its way into a many a forward-thinking techno jock’s set (Ricardo leading the way), the dark minimalism of these sludgy dubstep cuts fitting curiously well, sonically and aesthetically, with the anorexic grooves of contemporary 4x4. There’s the Burial CD, which everyone talks about evoking the claustrophobia of modern urban living blah blah because, well, it does. It can be a bit of an uncomfortable listen, but seriously – have you heard anything like it? As we’ve been saying since way, way back, this album is totally next level, and the way it just dropped, perfectly-formed and as if out of nowhere, is simply incredible. The ‘South London Boroughs’ 12” is worth your dollar to own some Burial on wax, but I stress again, it’s all about that album-length document/statement/whatever you want to call it. Kode9 is obsessed with the mythology of dub, but only on the Burial album have I seen the idea – the ghosts of pirate radio, the ol’ claustrophobia of urban living etc – so perfectly embodied and transfigured into sound. Kode9’s album is a very, very poor relation of ‘Burial’ (despite the over-excited gushings of the chaps at Boomkat) but even with the basso, er, unprofundo of Spaceape all over it, it has its moments - worth a listen, but not really one for dabblers like me.
And, well, yeah. There were other bits by the Mystikz, Hijack et al, but I’ll point you once again to Puffin’s post a little further down the page for a more knowledgeable take on what has become, over the course of 2006, a stupendously diverse but well-defined genre or even mode of music-making. Seriously, just LISTEN to ‘Hamas Rule’ or ‘Southern Comfort’ really fucking loud – I mean how sick are those sounds? Extremely fucking sick.
Right, I’ve got to keep writing otherwise this’ll never get finished, so let’s make a hugely inelegant lurch in subject to, er, Gabriel Ananda. Feted as ‘2006’s Dominik Eulberg’, I hadn’t really gone in for his Treibstoff 12”s, but ‘Ihre Personliche Glucksmelodie’ from last year was a Carnage favourite long before (ha) Eulberg delivered his storming nine minute remix back in Spring. People complained that it got a bit dull half-way through and, to be honest, they were right, but it was worth hanging on for the amazing drop about two minutes before the end. And, you know, no one (with the possible exception of Holden) works the edits and effects quite like ol’ Dominik E. Still, Ananda’s most memorable ’06 moments were yet to come; first came the gushing, widescreen ‘Lauschgoldengel’, a collaboration with Cio D’Or, which remains the most heartburstingly pure bit of proggy, hyper-melodic 4x4 ecstasy I’ve heard this year, a proper, proper summer anthem that sounded just HUGE on a system and made feel young and earnest and not quite dead yet. Then there was ‘Doppelwhipper’, which to me seemed to elicit a level of hype and critical outpouring disproportionate to the magnitude of the track itself – a mean, complex and totally satisfying bit of tech-house, but surely not the out-and-out rave anthem that was proclaimed? Well, in fairness, ‘Doppelwhipper’ is among those big tracks that I’ve not, to my knowledge, heard out, and I dare say I’d think differently if I had. I just think it’s the name – ‘Doppelwhipper’. I mean, you’ve got to love a track called ‘Dopplewhipper’, haven’t you?
Parts 2, 3, and given the snail's pace at which I'm moving, 4,5,6 and 7, will be with you soon, or perhaps never. We still haven't talked about Sonar, Wagon Repair, DFA, Retardo, God knows what else...In the meantime, if any of you non-UK residents have ever wondered why I'm nicknamed Mr Soft, here's the 15-year-old advert for Trebor's Extra Strong Mints. The connection is to a particularly delirious, E-fuelled jaunt up Park St in Bristol after a piss-poor-turn-out at one of our original TAPE nights a couple of years back, when I began singing the song from the ad and, well, doing that ridiculous walk. Seeing the ad for the first time in years, even I'm shocked at how much 'Mr Soft' really does resemble me at my gurnsome, tactile, clumsy worst/best. Also, what were they thinking marketing MINTS as mind-altering drugs?
Happy New Year.