Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ryuji Takeuchi "Upside Down" (GSR): Frenkyeffe "Monster" (Sick Weird Rough): Andy White "Process" (Sick Weird Rough): AKA Carl & Distek "Hybrid" (SubCult): Kryptic Minds "Idiom" / "Breach" (Osiris Music)

Jukeboxes only really provide the illusion of democracy, don't they ?

Of course, still having jukeboxes in a smattering of our pubs and bars is preferable to the model employed by most such establishments now of not having a jukebox at all: rather than let us the great unwashed choose the soundtrack, it's far more in keeping with this modern age to subject us all to the same looped tape of watered-down muzak, or to encourage us all just to stare at, or shout at, or vegetate in front of, TV screens instead (we note in passing that our two favourite British institutions, namely the football and the pub, have both been largely ruined by the Murdoch / Premier League axis, and in the space of a mere twenty years too).

Yet as time skips past, the few jukeboxes which are left don't really contain any music that you'd want to listen to. Sitting temptingly in the corner, they create the impression of choice, but as you scroll through a menu of increasingly unappetising options you realise that it's basically the same selection of middling Tesco albums that are being played everywhere else anyway, usually including a distinctly undazzling pot-pourri of Britpop (in case you haven't detected it from previous posts, we still loathe Britpop with a passion, and would do so even without its Blairite associations: the only decent Britpop songs ever written are Mozza's "Dagenham Dave", Blueboy's "Looney Tunes" and the theme from Fireman Sam. So there). Um, anyway, so all you're really getting from such a jukebox is the option of having the same dreary songs played in an order of your choosing, and even at 30p a go that is not a great sell. In practice, the very best you can normally hope for is that the management have naively left on some tamely bad "alternative music" compilation but which actually accidentally has one good song on it, normally by the Mary Chain, the Bunnymen or the Smiths.

But w-w-wait, it gets worse: even if you manage to find a tune you fancy listening to (OK then, fancy listening to *and* inflicting on the rest of the pub) the dark forces will find a way to scupper your enjoyment. We had to stop putting JAMC's "Snakedriver" (yes, it was on some otherwise frighteningly hokey 'indie' comp) on in the Falcon in Clapham Junction, merely because local punters started getting gnarly after the third or fourth repeat. When, encouraged by the loudness of the jukebox at the Bull & Gate, we found and deployed "Ace Of Spades", the landlord simply reached for a volume control and turned it down (some cheek, considering some of the happy cacophonies we've enjoyed live at that particular venue). And after we'd discovered - and, I confess, rather eagerly exploited - the fact that the Hen & Chickens jukebox offered us the whole of Public Enemy's "Fear Of A Black Planet", it wasn't long at all before that CD was removed from the machine too.

Round our neck of the woods there remains, however, one chink of light. The Hope & Anchor - which, to be fair, even post-refit remains a *proper* music pub - retains a pretty sterling jukebox, meaning you're reasonably spoiled for choice when selecting yer three tunes for a pound. Sure, it's not perfect - it doesn't have Hijack, or Halkyn, or Horowitz - but you can't imagine how much it means to us, allied with a friend and armed with a pint, to have the option of putting on "George Best" or the Fall (yes, it's a rebellious jukebox-ah) or our particular favourite, the Mary Chain's "Upside Down". There's little that makes us glow as much as being in that pub and hearing (feeling) those drums and *that* feedback kicking in. Wonderful, just wonderful: such a heart-splicing, joy-giving song.

* * * * *

So ever since 1984, if you're going to call a song "Upside Down", it's going to have to be fairly amazing to justify those kind of life-affirming associations. Luckily, Ryuji Takeuchi's "Upside Down" on GSR (it's Gayle San's label: she pops up on the EP to do a remix too) *is* that good, although it prompts more mid-80s indie associations, seemingly owing a debt of gratitude to "Blue Monday" (can't quite nail why, but it may be the repetitive opening drum thud, or the later swathes of "choral" synth: indeed, it's only now that we're starting to realise that all techno records released after 1983 - which is, um, all techno records - owe a debt to "Blue Monday", the scales having fallen from our eyes only when ingesting the newest Hydraulix output a few short weeks ago).

Don't get us wrong: "Upside Down" is still distinctly cutting-edge, a serendipitous and fiercely twenty-first century collage of percussive pound (at a very livable 125 bpm), achingly sleek industrial minimalism and tightly-weaved sonic layering. It seems that each time Mr Takeuchi moulds a new composition, he incorporates subtle variations on techniques and tricks he's refined over many years, so that while there are exceptions (the abiding warmth of "Possibility", or at the other extreme the primitive ear-lashing aggression of "Last Piece") many of his singles feel like the latest, purest iteration of a gently-evolving template, rather than a newly-imagined idea struggling to find its voice. Moreover, like past catalogue high-point "Vital", "Upside Down" is one of those tracks which, as you listen to it, just *clicks*: each component, however small, is a necessary cog, right down to each extra little drum kick, the shifting depth of the mix, the timing of every injection of bass. And, like many of the better records in this genre, some elements of the song are obvious from the first listen, while others lie hidden in a deep undergrowth of no-prisoner drum cracks, only rising to the surface after several listens. A work of art, and if someone could get this song onto a nearby jukebox we'd have their back *forever*.

Frenkyeffe's "Monster" is the latest release from Sick Weird Rough that's been getting heavy rotation on the headphones, the Rome resident unleashing an A-side which, despite an insistent pounding beat, initially comes across as so minimalist and unfettered by hooks that it makes "Upside Down" sound like "Dancing Queen". "Monster" feels unadorned: comparing it to other great techno outings this year, it doesn't have Pe'ja's crunching breakbeats, Sven W. or Tex-Rec's warm bubbling bass or Michael Schwarz's dizzily chiming synth prods. But again, as each new listen unfolds, new dynamics emerge, and "Monster" reveals itself to be just as durable (and should you want something a little more instant, or at least as instant as a seven-minute slab of studied techno can be, then "Bomb" on the other side should deliver nicely).

Another newie from the SWR stable is Andy White's "Process" single: our favourite from him for a little while, following the mid-table "Option A" and the UEFA-places "Rectifier". It hitches that ilwttisott-favoured "warm bubbling bass" to scale-climbing heart monitor bleeps, peaking with a plateau of urgent and clanking synth, before the song slides back down the octaves again. Then, suddenly, all clanks subside and the song reshapes itself with a closing three minutes of clean-lined and more traditionally minimal beats. There's a marvellous "dark" edit too, alongside another new track, the gently throbbing ten minute piece "Puls" (which, in its name and its composition, brings us right back to our pet theories about why techno is perhaps the most human form of music).

Not necessarily our normal thing, but SubCult have been firing out some fair old extended plays this year, and we'd single out label boss AKA Carl and Distek's "Hybrid", from the 3-track v/a 12EP12, if you like your techno a touch more funk and Latin-infused than the minimal / dark / black / hard or acid varieties that this blog usually cherry-picks from a somewhat wide field. While you may recall north Wales' Distek from his past '00s London techno label outings (although we haven't mentioned him on this blog since that Unknown Forces v/a 12" back in 2008) he's continued his journey from the underground since then, and the vibe here is, yes (as Greg & Tim had it, back in the day)

"commercial!"

BUT in a good way: it's varnished, swisher and more summery, and every so often, a bona fide floorfiller like this hits just the right spot. Fact of the day: AKA Carl is a graduate of Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, which reflects rather well on the old man (and on the range of disciplines on offer there).

Now. You'll have gleaned from a baker's dozen of past posts that musically-mellowed d-step duo Kryptic Minds are one of our favourite acts of the last few years, but although last year's not coffee table-unsympathetic "Can't Sleep" album certainly had its moments we couldn't love it quite as much as its more otherworldly predecessor, "One Of Us". Similarly, although we nodded dutifully along to their "When Paths Cross" / "Askum" single on Tectonic earlier this year, it didn't feel like anything to write home about (or, in our case, to write to you about). Their new 12", on the other hand, is definitely worth bringing to your attention. "Idiom" could almost be a companion piece to Pinch and Loefah's crashing "Broken", which seems fitting given that the Minds have recorded for both men's labels. It basically consists of a huge booming bass pulse, interwoven with quickfire synth burble for maximum dancefloor succour. Moreover, turn the record over and "Breach" is something altogether different: the pace is quick, hinting at a real techno influence (maybe linking in to our recent thoughts as to how the better techno releases might be taking the place of dubstep ?) although the percussive accompaniment here is still in the nature of subtle clicks rather than full-on beats.

But it's time (um, bedtime!) to get back to where we started. Jukebox democracy may largely have vanished, but at least the internet has (sort of) replaced it. You won't hear any of these songs on the radio - more's the pity -and you certainly won't hear them being looped endlessly in your local, but you'll easily be able to find samples and info about them with the most cursory surfing, and even to buy them (should you find something that tickles your fancy) in no more than a few short clicks. And should we ever win the lottery, then the public house we inevitably plough the proceeds into (we've already decided it's going to be called "The Pub That Saps Your Body", although it may have a by-night sideline, "The Club If You'd Like To Go") is going to boast a sprawling jukebox containing everything we've ever reviewed. After which, we promise never, ever, to moan about the things again.

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