Monday, 14 June 2010

Parklife one day festival

Parklife Festival, Platt Fields Park, Manchester. 12 June 2010
By Michael Curtis

Entry to a dance music festival on a sunny June weekend sounded like a golden ticket. Once I had joined a queue behind a sizable portion of the other 20,000 ticket holders, I started to wonder if a festival run in the middle of a British city would be so perfect.

Finally making it inside, party jockey Kissy Sell Out was tonking out his lurid, UK funky electro on the towering mainstage, soon to be followed by Calvin Harris. The likes of Erol Alkan and Vitalic were lined up in one of the festivals big top tents, with the other two given over to Northern drum and bass/dubstep mega-nights Ape and Metropolis. Lounging on the grass and enjoying the sun seemed preferable for the afternoon, though the central area was littered with plastic bottles and trash before long.

Down in the Ape/Metropolis encampment, formidable performers like Joker and Skream b2b Benga lead the charge. Playing in the daylight hours they were subdued, shorn of their vital grit and aggression. Their MC's ought to have got over berating the soundman for the volume restraints, an obvious limitation at a city festival. High Contrast was more successful at motivating the crowd, with a diverse selection which made plenty of sense in the circumstance. Buraka Som Sistema also did a great job in building a wild, tribal atmosphere with their heavyweight grooves and big stage presence.

I probably should have stayed around these two tents, where it felt like the kind of festival I wanted to be at, but I had to check out the Crosstown Rebels tent. Main DJ's Clive Henry and label boss Damian Lazarus came with all the swagger of Ibiza DJ's but totally failed to ignite the floor. There was plenty of appetite amongst the people packed in to the diminutive tent, and their bare tech-house sound was accessible but lacked the swing or musical depth to up the ante. A disco influence crept in for the latter stages of Jamie Jones set and made it feel a bit more special, but the Lazarus' 'rebels' sounded bland and generic today.

The main stage and electro big top were plainly set up to cater for mainstream tastes, but the masses seemed unresponsive. Maybe England's drab performance in the world cup, watched by many on a big screen, soured the party spirit as the sun was setting. Booka Shade got all breathless playing their stadium house tracks, but with the audience acting like they were hanging around with friends at a bus station not a party, they looked pretty daft trying to liven things up prancing around ever harder behind their synths and electronic drum kit.

Over in the massive electro big top, Vitalic played with the toughness and physicality to get people squeezed in and jacking. A track like 'LA Rock' may have been a big hit, but it's also raw uncompromising. This is what makes it special and affecting. In planning this event, the organisers clearly made compromises to appeal to 'mainstream' tastes. Programming a party as big as this they probably felt they had to. As I made the long walk across the festival, I had to think that this party was too big. We got all the hassles of a festival (big queues for portaloos and shit overpriced booze) along with the restrictions of city clubbing (volume and licencing restrictions) but without the exciting diversity and quality of music. Is it really possible to get a festival atmosphere in a city, without asking people to make the effort and travel for the music they love?

Opposite the main stage was the small Now Wave tent. This is were we got to see Four Tet niftily skipping across genre boundaries, letting his loops spiral deliciously into new concotions. Going in one time, I realized that the performer Steve Mason was the one time member of the The Beta Band. I was disappointed to miss most of his band's set, but seemingly happier then Mason himself: he left the stage looking like he'd been slapped. Quite possibly this ambitious and capable musician was disgruntled at being stuck in a diminutive tent, not gracing the grandiose main stage. If so, I'd happily agree that this music festival would have been more exciting had such an imaginative performer been put on a level footing with the big name attractions.

Published on Resident Adviosr

Sunday, 25 April 2010

BLOC 2010 review

I went down to Minehead as the electronic music geek in the team. An amazing time was had by all. Below is my contribution to the 'top 20 sets of the festival' the four of us compiled. The final, collaborative version is here:

Steve Ellison aka Flying Lotus came to Bloc as one of the the most talked of underground music artists around. His musical heritage and cross media abilities have been picked over. Warp are waiting to release his third studio album this summer. His solo live set was reported to have totally eclipsed the efforts of four piece band Battles on the Warp records tour earlier this year, and he announced that this he was presenting a “new digital set” using his own visuals at Bloc. Should be alright then.

Last year Bloc had Aphex Twin and Florian Hecker to challenge our perception of what is possible with electronic music, and this year the 26 year old from California did the same. It really was an astonishing performance.

Our intrepid photographer tried to get close enough to uncover the secrets of his equipment, but no can do; it seems improbable that anyone could produce so unique a set using a fairly typical Ableton/midi controller/DJ mixer set up, but maybe we just have to accept that this man knows something other performers don't. Whatever his mysterious techniques, it allows him to breezily trip from style to sound, bringing in everything from jungle, soul and murdered electro house. It's become a bit of an easy trick to drop Radiohead's 'Idioteque', but edited to within an inch of insanity, it seemed he had a new take on this – as he had a new take on everything.

You can't overlook that Flying Lotus' roots, his basic template, is hip hop. But the way he turns that simple beat upside down makes it feel like the smart-ass punk nephew of the loops and skits Grandmaster Flash had run through earlier - a distant relative living in a different city, a different time. The unconventional percussion tracks he layers over the top of his grooves, sounding neither like drums nor even entirely in sync, make for an unreal and constantly surprising experience. His is the hip hop of bottles kicked along broken streets; urban music aware that there's deep timeless space above these city streets.

I barely even noticed the rest of the audience, entranced as I was by the visuals juddering along to the music and the relaxed yet busily working presence of Flying Lotus at the controls. This was beat music to shock all those who thought there was nothing new to be done with dance music.

To my relief, it turned out there was plenty of excitement to be had with the other performers in attendance; for the hour after this set, I wondered whether I would be able to enjoy anything else at the festival in comparison with this (fortunately Alden Tyrell was in town.) As all who saw Flying Lotus will tell you, watch this man.

Picture the scene: there are just two hours remaining of the festival. Joris Voorn has been rinsing some of the smoothest hi-tek soul for the last two hours. The final performance of the festival is a set from legendary Detroit DJ Derrick May.

The contrast between a producer leading a new generation of Dutch techno producers and one of the first wave of Detroit producers who created techno was intriguing. After enjoying the glossy and flawless selection from modern master Voorn, how would a DJ of the old school using the traditional two Technics 1210's and two CDJ's format appear?

For probably the first time all weekend, we had a seamless transition from one artist to the next on the main stage (the break between sets usually dissipated all momentum in the main room.) May did, however, take pains to make sure Voorn got full appreciation for his set, walking over to complement him and join in the applause. Voorn had built his set up to a massive thumping house beat, so the initial transition from the jacking peak of the Dutchman's set to the reduced level of May's opening groove gave a chance for the dancers to regroup and review.

What we actually got from the revered godfather of techno, was a selection of deep and soulful house. For sure, the beat was heavy, and whenever he plays seriously he plays deep, but anyone expecting heads down thumping techno was instead taken on a journey in sound by this master selector.

We had cuts with samba percussion, trumpets and saxophones, leading to deep techno classics like 'Groove a la Chord' by Aril Brikha and Laurent Garnier's 'Acid Eiffle' (both on his apparently soon to relaunch Transmat label.) We had some superbly dubby techno sounding like 90's UK techno don Steve O'Sullivan. When it looked like he'd step up to a kicking techno sound he sidestepped instead to some fresh Berlin techno records I've got somewhere but have yet to identify (who says minimal is nondescript?)

So how did an exercise in the old skills compare with Voorn's hi-tek flex? Voorn has all his sounds at his fingertips and under control and knew exactly how he likes to execute his tension building mixes and the effects he'll apply. He can grin at his audience and dance to the carefully selected loops in his library. Derrick May spent long spells facing his record box picking out awesome unknown tunes that twist and turn and build and break. For a while he span some tools and hit on three deck mixes, but he was probably best letting the tunes do the work and slowly mixing it up until it didn't feel like I was in the main hall of a Butlins holiday camp in Somerset anymore, I could have been next to the speakers of any club with a Funktion 1 rig.

Last year Carl Craig was charged with doing this same job, and to my anguish he played a whole bunch of new European techno which, whilst perfectly danceable, was not what I want to hear from such a figure. Like Derrick May, he can play tunes that are decades old and so deep, so soulful, so powerful, that most of today's producers don't get close. And that's what May did, building his set around the most gorgeous and energising dance music, cutting the bass once in a while, then giving it to the crowd full whack and standing back to enjoy the tune himself. And ultimately it was house music that ended the festival and left us refreshed and euphoric after the dancing as we dispersed into the night.

3. T++
Tec-bloc, the third room comparatively, is all black and could hold at least 1000 people. In the darkness at the back is a seating area and if you look closely you'll notice a wild west theme. The Funktion 1 rig sounds sweetest in the dark in here, I reckon. For the Saturday, epic Bristol and London club night Subloaded we're in charge and asked T++ aka Torston Profrock to finish their run and, as it didn't operate on Sunday, the Tec-Bloc room itself.

He took to the stage after a Marcell Dettmann and Shed's back to back session had been soured by technical problems, at the same time as Surgeon started in the main room... there went all the techno fans. The sound of T++ has rough echoes of his associate Monolake, and ethno-electronic artist Muslimguaze. Its a pretty mysterious and impenetrable construct of rhythms.

The sight of T++ tells you this is not just serious or technical music however. Bearing the logo of London based label and shop Honest Jons Records, retailers of everything from Tony Allen and Lord Kitchener to Scottish folk rock, he was not still while the beats were in motion. Mopping his brow under the stage lights, he seemed to make every alteration happen not with the turn of a dial but a heave of his shoulders.

The crowd was perphaps three deep. Though we may have been few, we hung on every beat and demanded an encore; although Torston did coyloy ask, taking a breather with less than 10 minutes left, which he looked like he really needed. The sweat on all our brows was testament to the capability for his unique vision of dance music to ensnare ones hands and feet in rhythm.

Alden Tyrell is a stalwart of the crucial Dutch electro label Clone. He looked rather shy on stage with his Nord synth and laptop, as though he'd only come round to have a chat and a cuppa. His set of unashamedly cheesy and uplifting disco and electro was easily the highlight in the intimate Jak-bloc room.

Unfortunately I missed the first half of this set, hanging around elsewhere waiting for Shed and Marcel Dettmann to do something interesting, but came in to find a gleeful crowding of the dancefloor. I was so glad to be in there when half of the crowd inexplicably began singing along, 'do-do-doooo, do-do-do-do', to 'Rendezvous at Rimini'. I must have missed something: so far as I'm aware Tyrell is a fairly obscure though highly esteemed italo-disco and analogue electro producer, so why the dancefloor suddenly threw their hands in the air and started a sing-along I have no idea.

He rounded his set off with a stonking acid track which totally mashed up the floor, and left the stage with a bashful grin. If the love from the crowd was anything to go on, these dancefloors need a whole lot more synthtastic joyous analogue music.

Luke Slater AKA Planetary Assault Systems is one of the most successful and prolific British techno producers. But not many people seem to know who he is, even though Dave Clarke is the only techno DJ and producer who even comes close in one sense.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this live PSA appearance was that Luke Slater appears to work with an engineer. Whether he is just recruited for the live presentation or Slater's regular studio engineer I don't know. I can't even say that they knew each other - for the duration of the set they both started at their own pair of Macbooks, without ever once looking at each other.

The selection at Bloc was basically a reproduction of the Temporary Suspension album released last year on Ostgut Ton. The tracks are gaunt, heavy techno with rough edges and clanking, acid saw parts, and were presented more or less consecutively over ninety minutes. The crescendo's grew ever greater, the kick ever more relentless and penetrating. Call me a techno-head, but I loved it.

The imagery conjured by the Planetary Assault Systems name and icon fits perfectly with the musical aesthetic. The whole thing seems to invoke some inhuman sci-fi future, of automata and alarms, and it was those robotic beats held us captive until the sonic structure finally collapsed at 6am.
Correction: Slater's accomplice on stage got in touch to say he was the VJ

Autechre are on the road this March ahead of the release of 'Oversteps', their tenth LP by my count. Since 1998 they've been making a particularly abstract and confrontational kind of electronic music that means most people either love or hate what they do; to many it sounds like a racket. To others, unparalleled.

To judge by the sound tonight, Autechre fans might find the new album a treat. The beats are still as fractious as ever, but less effort was made to subdue the harmonic elements of their synth work. In keeping with their Quarisitice album, they would quite quickly skip from idea to idea. They're playing with a much more stripped down set of equipment right now, and probably because of this the sound was rawer and more upfront. As ever, they explore the limit of their machines, making truly experimental electronic music.

The set was played out in as near as possible to total darkness, with no light show whatsoever. When you could see what was going on, moving around the hall, the sight of people engaging with the music was almost as interesting as what was heard. Here a wafting of hands; their a rhythmic chopping of limbs, mantis stylee. The overall experience was wonderfully disorientating. After hours of good old repetitive beats, I felt lost in Autechre's unpredictable beat scape. And sometimes lost is a good place to be.

Hardwax approved bashment and dub, with the first class sing jay Tikiman doing a superlative job on the mic.

A comparatively sedate set, building from an ambient/trip hop beginning. Surgeon eschewed dubstep for a rave influence in this live A/V set. The cheesy dancers which sometimes got in the way on the main stage were replaced by his personal yoga duo!Looked happier enjoying a groove to some nice tunes, than he has done in the past when sternly constructing intense laptop mixes.

Joris Voorn has rapidly found himself place at the forefront of the electronic music scene. Given this I was extremely curious to see what his popular live sets entai. So on seeing his name on the line up he was immediately on my “must see” list. After a hectic but unequivocally enjoyable two days and nights of music, it was finally time when Voorn played the penultimate set on the Centre Bloc stage.

Starting his first track, the first chunky loop, as Skream and Benga made their way off, he lost most of the crowd in an instant. But with a few uptempo house grooves, including Moodymann’s 'I Can't Kick This Feeling When It Hits', Voorn quickly had a dancefloor of his own going. For pretty much the whole set he stood up swaying away, clapping the beat when he could. His Traktor Scratch and CDJ's set up allows him to easily layer up several tracks at a time; it sounds like pretty much everything he plays is looped.

After a good half an hour the mood became a lot deeper, the change signified by him looping Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’. An obvious choice? Maybe. But his decision to only sample the bassline meant it worked out credibly. This deeper sound kept the rolling, bouncing beats from earlier and ensured the crowd remained as energetic as ever. Paul Kalkbrenner’s ‘Sky And Sand’ from Berlin Calling was next to be heard, and there were also further crowd teasing samples in the form of Cevin Fisher’s classic 'You Got Me Burning Up', the vocal and bass line from another classic, ‘I Feel Love’. As the set drew to a close Voorn moved to a much harder techno sound, the final samples coming from Plastikman's 'Spastik' and Green Velvets 'Flash'.

Voorn's showmanship and skills got the whole front room rolling to his beat. Musically it was all over the place, with even Mr Scruff getting a look in, but it was carried along with a skill that evoked as great a crowd reaction and appreciation as anyone else received. It was also managed perfectly to bridge the gap from Skream and Benga’s boisterous performance to the understated but equally riveting festival finale set from Mr Derrick May.

If Benga and Skream were still Adegbenga Adejurno and Oliver Jones, and they went on X-Factor, what do you think would happen? I can tell you what I envisage, and it involves Simon Cowell's teeth scattering across the stage like an un-choreographed dance troupe, and the police leading Oliver away.

Playing back to back, the dubstep of Benga and Skream holds few real surprises. This particular seam of dubstep, with the tracks' tendency to rapidly switch between contrasting A and B sections, does seem massively affective at getting a whole dancefloor to jack; this was the only time the main room floor was literally bouncing.

The interplay and mock-drama between the two DJ's had the potential to be extremely cheesy but it all added to the excitement of the performance. The addition of MC Sgt Pokes to the 'Skenga' show was barely even a distraction really. These two have enough presence and character on stage to easily handle crowd much larger then the 2000+ here today.

They finished with a full 7 or 8 minutes of a track from Skream's forthcoming album, a sunny, jungle style track with big drum and bass production. It sounds like it will be a big album for him, with major collaborations, and he prowled the stage triumphantly throughout. This man isn't gonna shut up soon.

The Swedish techno don was the best technicial mixer of the festival, but, without a major presence of techno heads to really get things going, he was left with nowhere to go. A lot of really fine stripped down, slightly dubby tracks in that icey Scandinavian style, but he got lost playing housey tracks to try whip up some momentum.

A lively tour through the highlights of Lindstrom's production back catalogue. A pleasure, but bereft of the twists and turns offered by a Lindstrom DJ set.

Glitchy house and Boards of Canada-esque electronica hit the spot in the Fenchurch Dome on Saturday afternoon.

The two Bristolian's bought a different flavour with their back to back set. Exchanging five records each, they allowed their constrasting styles to impose a kind of structure on this collaboration. Appleblim's preference for seemless mixing and flowing grooves made for a steady build till the switch to Peverelist, who's rougher and more errant selection made many crafty changes of direction.

15 minutes in and there were only heads nodding on the dancefloor but check your watch and its only 18:45. It wasn't so easy for a dancefloor to get moving to this, but perhaps it wasn't meant to. The sound was a skeletal version of dubstep, a dub-variant not really related to urban music at all. Like Shackleton, the influences seem to be sourced straight from the plains of Africa, occultism and all, without the historic detour via the slave plantations of the America and the West Indies.

Full on live hustle in the main room. The hip hop-rock show sounded big, looked big, but was ultimately two speed.

16. OMAR S
As much interested in tones and textures as the gently swinging beats which framed music. Purely deep house and unexpectedly leftfield.

17. MODEL 500
The performance by Juan Atkins' Model 500 crew was hotly anticipated. Although watched enthusiastically by some, performing tracks one by one with Atkins, Mike Banks and Mark Taylor jamming on keyboards sounded like techno was being reimaged for the hotel lobby. With all due respect to these inspirational producers, they are not admired most for their ability tickling the ivories and their laid back jams were not what the party needed - especially not with the frantic beats of Autechre creeping in through the floor between songs.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

SCUBA interview

Paul Rose aka Scuba has trodden a long path from from his roots in the formative London dubstep scene. Since 2007 he's been operating out of Berlin and as a headline DJ, producer, label boss and promoter he's well place d to survey the European underground dance music scene.

His label Hotflush Recordings is pushing on for 7 years in the business. With recent signings like Joy Orbison, Sigha and Mount Kimbie making a big impact, Hotflush is one of the key labels to watch. Scuba is one of the few dubstep-affiliated DJ's to get regular bookings all over Europe. His popularity as a DJ has led to a respectable placing in the 2009 Resident Advisor top 100 DJs poll, and he's already released a Sub:stance mix album in 2010.

We met up with him before the release of his second studio album Triangulation to talk about running nights in the world's coolest club, making music in London and Berlin, and how, if things had gone differently, he might have stopped Razorlight from ever coming into existence...

[Since July 2008 you've been running the Sub:stance night in Berlin. This seems to have been a big platform for your work and dubstep type music in general. How did you get involved?]
Basically I moved over [to Berlin] in the back end of 2007 and one of the things I wanted to do in the city was to do a big night cos noone had really stuck their neck out and tried to do something at one of the big clubs. I wanted to try and get a big line up together and just see if it worked, cos there had been a following for the music in the city, but it hadn't really been given a chance to properly get going.

Basically the ideal scenario was to do it in Berghain. It just happened by chance really, I bumped into one of the guys who works there and set up a meeting, turned up, said we wanna do a night, and was expecting maybe a Thursday or a Sunday or something. The thing with it is that on Fridays the big room, the Berghain room, isn't normally open, it's just the Panoramabar. So when they said do you want to do on a Friday night we we're like O-K yes of course we would.

The first night we did was the first night Berghain had ever been open on a Friday night which just made it doubly mad, and we're there to put on - I say its a dubstep night, but its not really, its just a kind of general bass music night. I wouldn't want to be associated with a dubstep night these days, I think there's a lot of interesting music but it doesn't all come under the dubstep banner anymore. So its just a night for good music. There is a bit of techno - I play a bit of techno in my sets - but thats what they normally have at Berghain, so we don't book techno DJs. Theres techno producers who I'd really like to book to play there but I don't cos that's what normally goes on there.

I think the main impact that our night has had, from the fact that its been at Berghain, is that the scene there is a lot more receptive to this kind of music now. So that's definitely been a big positive change I think.

[It should be no surprise that Sub:stance has been a success in such a cosmopolitan city as Berlin. But how do you think the rest of Europe is responding to dubstep and bass music? Are there many people from further afield doing good stuff?]
Yeah its generally quite healthy at the moment across the board, there's a lot of interesting music being made, coming from a lot of different angles. I really hate the dubstep-techno crossover thing, its a bullshit kind of concept, but from that to the UK funky thing which is coming from a completely different angle, to all the other stuff thats going on - I think its positive, and there's people from different parts of the world, not just Europe, working at it... I was in Japan last month and there were some really really interesting local acts playing on the same bill as me, I was really impressed.

[How do you feel about Berlin in 2010?]
Its certainly changed since I've been there, and they're trying to change it. There's loads of big development plans that the local government are trying to get through, cos the thing about the city is it has no money at all, the town hall has no cash. They're trying to push through these things like the Media Spree development [in Friedrichshain] where they're going to knock down a load of buildings along the river and build a shopping mall and hotels. Watergate would go if it happens, shit loads of things are gonna go if it happens. Theres all these protests about it, and on the one hand you think, well yes the city needs some money so they've got to try and generate the cash somehow - but the flipside of it is that a lot of the tourist revenue which comes into Berlin is based on the counter culture that they're trying to get rid of. Its sort of a transitional period I guess, but its still totally different to everywhere else.

[You've lived in notable musical cities like Bristol and London as well. How important do you think the different music scenes in certain cities is? Does it influence the music, or is the talk of scenes just media hype?]
When you say a scene its the people who are putting on nights and the people who are making music, that for me is the scene... In Europe the scene is the house and techno producers, but in London there is no house and techno scene - you have big house and techno clubs and people like the music, but there is no scene as such. So thats the difference and theres a little bass music scene in Berlin and other cities but there isn't what I'd call a scene - its nothing like this great scene that produced dubstep in the first place, which is quite a unique thing anyway.

England's got this urban scene which doesn't really exist in Europe, but they've got this underground house and techno scene that doesn't really exist [in the UK].

[Did the Bristol scene support you much when you were starting out in electronic music?]
Well, not so much. When I was living in Bristol I was a student, so I was just doing student stuff and wasn't really a part of it to be honest. But yeah in London, I was totally part of the dubstep thing when it was coming up. And it has been interesting watching it all develop, I still find it quite bizarre that its come to anything at all really. But we all believed in it, else we wouldn't have kept on bashing away for god knows how long without making no money out of it. Its something I look back on and think it was really good to be a part of that, certainly.

And now its just about seeing how far it can be taken. I've said before that I wouldn't want to be part of a dubstep night so obviously I'm not completely enamoured with how its gone.... I would clarify that and say there is still a lot of dubstep I do like but my problem with it now is that its become... the way its perceived has turned into quite a narrow thing, thats my problem with it. But I'm not averse to the odd bit of wobble every now and again, in very small doses.

[Has the move from London to Berlin influenced the music you make?]
With the Scuba stuff I wouldn't say that the city [Berlin] has had much influence on me at all. I've always been really into techno - that was the first music I was getting into when I was a teenager. Theres always been a lot of different influences that have gone into what I do, and techno is just one thing. That said the SCB project that I'm doing is nakedly influenced by Berghain, I make no apology for that. But the album [Triangulation] is much more.... well maybe UK, I dunno. Its different things. The reason it's called Triangulation is because of the three musical influences coming into it, which are the kind of dubstep thing, the house and techno thing, and the drum and bass or half-time stuff.

[The 12 tracks on Triangulation cover a broad range of styles. How did the album come together?]
I spent a year trying to do something and it only really came together in the last few months. I sat down in January and said I'm gonna make an album by June, and by June I had got absolutely nowhere. The whole of last year was just a kind of perpetual frustration, anger and just general rage.. but in September I said its gotta be done by Christmas or I'm never gonna do another album ever again. I just made myself do it, but I'm pretty happy with the way its panned out, I think its certainly a step forward from the last one. If you're making a step forward then you can't ask for much more than that.

I was writing the first one [A Mutual Antipathy] just before I moved over [to Berlin]. I wrote pretty much the whole album, listened to it and thought "no, this is shit". After I got over, it just flowed a little bit more. One track remained on the final album. And this one... like I said I was working for six months and produced basically nothing, and then in September it was just like yeah lets fucking do it.. and it just about worked out.

[You use vocals on the album, and some of the tracks are more song like than your earlier productions. Is this a new direction you are looking to develop?]
It's sort of a continuation of the track I did on the previous ep, which was just messing around with vocals and not trying to do anything too profound with it - just use them as an instrument, to get an extra layer or texture. It's just to experiment with it but I think I am interested in the song form - I used to write songs when I was in bands when I was a teenager... I got into techno first and then I became an indie kid for a year, then got into techno again. I was in a band with Johnny Borrell from Razorlight actually. And we very nearly got a deal, just before I went to university. There was one stage where we did a gig at the Dublin Castle in Camden where the head of Sony A&R came to see us, and basically we were ready to get a deal and we screwed the gig totally and split up on stage. It was like fucking calamity of calamities... and two days later I applied to university, that was it, I didn't do anything else for ages.

[Your label Hotflush Recordings is getting on to be 7 years old, with more than 50 releases. Although its lauded as a major dubstep label, the releases have always been pretty varied. What's the ethos behind what you do with Hotflush?]
Going back to the start, the more succesful A&R things were when it was entirely revolved around my DJ sets, so when you get passed a tune and it works well, put it out. And its still like that to a large extent. Probably people think a lot of the stuff we put out is quite down tempo - certainly a proportion of it is quite down tempo, quite not-danceable, but to be honest I think its more about the way you DJ and contextualise stuff within a set. I do play a lot that might seem to be not danceable tunes in my set, but you play them right and people will still dance.

When we started the label it wasn't intended to be a dubstep thing really, it was one of the things we were interested in but it just gradually happened. In the last couple of years its broadened out again which was the intention originally. So yeah, its a cliche but you want to put out good music - thats all you can really do with a label. Moving forward we want to do more albums, got albums coming out in March, and the Mount Kimbie albums out in June.

[You've been able to work full time as DJ, producer and label boss for a while now. Has this bought new pressures or just new opportunities? Where do you want to get to in the future?]
Its more the thinking time than anything else - being able to consider where you want to be and think about things a bit more longterm... I mean, theres pressures when you've got to put food on the table but you've got to look past that, and short term solutions in music are usually the wrong solutions. That's probably true for most things, but I think its just about keeping sight of what made you do it in the first place. I think thats the most important thing cos thats why anyone wants do this kind of shit.

Musically, I haven't done anything yet really. Certainly with the label - when I started the label I wanted to be, you know... Warp is the obvious one for an independent label, thats where you want to get to. But that's a twenty year project potentially. And as a producer it's a learning curve really, I don't think anyone could ever say they're totally satisfied with what they are doing musically. I've thought i'll maybe do four albums as Scuba but you never know whats gonna happen with it. It could all go tits up next year, you never know. Obviously you've gotta have an eye on the long term but equally you've gotta appreciate where you are in the present and try make the most of it.

by Michael Curtis
published March 2010 at

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Sequence @ Sankeys, Manchester UK, 21/11/08

Surgeon/Marcel Dettman/Redshape/Rob Hall/Alern 8/Tim Exile/DMX Krew etc

Sequence has been a dominant presence on Manchester's musical landscape, and one of few club nights able to host major acts like Aphex Twin and Ben Sims yet still willing to book genuinely underground, experimental artists. After 5 years they announced this would be the last Sequence party - and a night where they invited back some of the artists who'd been highlights at previous parties.

Mark Turner kicked off with a suitably celebratory party set, throwing down sped-up disco and classics like 'Jaguar' and Matt Dears' 'Dog Days'. The only problem was that he was in Sankeys' room 2, which isn't so much a room as a foyer which people constantly have to jostle through.

Staying in room 2, Sequence favourite Tim Exile had the crowd packed in for his ace live set. Not only entertaining but also piss-funny, his use of a keyboard, his voice and a silly hat delighted the audience. Imagine a bull in a china town after-hours disco hoe down and you'll be pretty near his sound.

Altern 8 and Ed DMX carried the disco flavour further in their own estimable styles, but with the headline guests playing in the main room it was increasingly difficult to pin down dancers in room 2.

After a superlative performance at the Paradise Factory last year, Redshape was the first of the big guests to play up front. Just 2 years after his first release he's pretty much a cult figure already, and was watched with much interest here. In fact some people seemed so interested to see him they forgot to dance, preferring instead to stare at him busily working his gear. His is the kind of deep techno that can be enjoyed whenever, and he translated it perfectly to the big room at Sankeys with another expertly delivered live set.

With the club now approaching peak time Marcel Dettman took the decks. His streamlined take on house and techno energised the dancefloor, getting tougher up to the point where Surgeon took over. Unfortunately Surgeon's set was shortened as a consequence of Redshape starting later than scheduled. Perhaps because of this his set was much more focussed than those who've heard his recent techno/dubstep crossover performances might have expected: the fusion of his influences was total and seamless. For me this was the kind of industrial strength set he's been threatening to nail for a while. True future music.

Rob Hall has been a guest at many Sequence parties over the years, so it was fitting that he should finish the night. The Gescom associate knew the script and the frenetic techno perpetuated. Neither mindlessly hard nor referencing just passing trends, this was the sound of the North England underground. The end came all too soon.

Michael Curtis

Shed & Portable @ Faktion. School of Sound Recording, 09/11/08

The Faktion crew have been staging serious players from the techno and dubstep underground since early this year, but I doubt any of their line ups have provoked such keen anticipation as this did. The SSR venue is a great place to hear quality music, removed from the city centre, without the pomp of dedicated, commercial clubs and kitted out with a killer soundsystem.

Faktion resident Padrow, playing before Portable/Bodycode, built the momentum nicely with an entertaining set. If the mixing lacked something, the selection and set building more than made up for it, with electro and techno across styles and eras all slotted into place.

There's something special and unique about the sound of Portable/Bodycode (perhaps we should just call him Alan?) Maybe this has something to do with a history that’s seen him take his music from Cape Town in South Africa to London, before settling in Lisbon, Portugal. Somehow he’s managed to forge a sound that seems equal parts acid house 1989 and experimental techno 2004. It all pulses with organic life, stomping like an unleashed though very friendly beast. His use of a mic to perform and dub the vocals to tracks like 'Don't Give Up' was a pleasing infraction against the sometimes oh-so-not-live set. His compositions strong harmonic and melodic content helped make this a lively and captivating performance.

Shed is playing a number of dates to support his Shedding the Past album. Recording his first long player, Shed has expanded and refined his sound pallet to make something of a zeitgeist album which has been widely acclaimed and, tellingly, is sold out in virtually all outlets 2 months after its release. However, the problem with promotional tours was maybe heard tonight. With this set focussed on his Ostgut material tonight, those who loved his earlier Soloaction releases and there primal deep techno and house stylings were left a little frustrated. But thats not to detract from were he's at now: his genre splitting sound deserves to be heard by many more heads.

The first half of this set was all about suspense and tension building, with the basic elements deployed to maximum effect: taught beats sparring with pristine breakdowns, with the release of the bass drum's drop tantalisingly withheld. The last half hour saw the dancers given their rightful prize, the beats rising until Shed's old school sound broke through with the Ostgut bomb 'Warped Mind'. Whilst parts of his set were received with heads nodding rather than limbs flailing, the applause as he finished showed that Shed's appearance was very much appreciated.

The last hour was for the residents to work the dancefloor, and a forthright techno selection from the Aerobiq Mystiq did just that. Unfortunately it’s likely this will be the last Faktion party at SSR, which is a shame as it’s perfectly suited to their music on the outskirts.

Michael Curtis

Meandyou @ Bookbinders, Manchester 24/10/2008

Move D / MLZ
3.5/ 5 (4 if you want to be generous)

Meandyou has quickly established itself as eminent amongst the many house/techno dances in Manchester. With a booking policy seemingly focussed on talent thats often overlooked (such as Bovill & Murmur of the relatively obscure UK techno dub label Meanwhile, scheduled to play next month) Move D looked like the perfect guest.

Move D (David Moufang from Heidleberg, Germany) set up Source Records DE way back in 1992 and has been releasing deep house, techno and acid cuts since then. Both his own releases and the Source label output vary in style but are always of the highest quality - this is an artist who has serious ideas about quality control. Recently he's been working with super cool labels like Workshop and Running Back, and doing my fact checking, I saw he even had a record out on Warp back in 1996. It was his connection with Manchester's Modern Lover records that brought him to the rainy city, headlining a label showcase for the deep techno imprint, along with fellow Modern Lover MLZ. MLZ is the new project from DJ Miles, half of the genre-busting Pendle Coven act. His new project is a chance to focus on four-to-the-dancefloor business.

Walking into the Bookbinders club, it felt most like a good old British working mens club - but tucked away in a city centre basement near Manchester's Canal street. Low ceilings are normally desirable in a club, mirrored walls less so. But no problem, it added glitter proceedings and made the venue seem as expansive as the performers selections. The crowd was cool, youthful and eagerly anticipating headliner Move D's set.

Residents Dan Mumberson and Joseph set the tone, shimmying between lush deep house and acute, functional rhythm cuts. They sneaked the odd epic techno dub track in as well - a style the night has championed thus far. Unfortunately I must have missed fellow resident Arnaldo's set; his techno leanings might have added a bit of grit to proceedings. Abstract Earth and Craig Boylan were apparently responsible for the excellent visuals - apt and un-intrusive.

Move D took the decks and filled the dancefloor. Leaving his laptop at home and playing a DJ selection he built on the sound work of the residents, taking us further into the realms of the deep house groove. I can only guess at the gems that must weigh down his record shelves, but he gave us a glimpse tonight. Tight and efficient mixing, and a classy sound that was all restrained emotion and super quality productions.

MLZ found previously unheard levels of bass, plumbing the depths. In an hour long Ableton set he ranged around the musical terrain, as anyone familiar with his DJ sets might expect. From a dubby techno starting point he was quickly into more irregular beat programming. Whilst impressive in its range and movement between styles, it did sound a bit well behaved, lacking the anger of aggressive dubstep or the weight of techno dub - not so firmly set on dancefloor devastation. Perhaps this just touches on the soundsystems set up. Although a seemingly imposing rig, the sound was a bit light, and with the nature of the music played you need some deep bass to really make it physical.

Outside, the street filled up with smiling faces and warm words for meandyou, a night which is only going to move onwards and upwards.

Michael Curtis

Faktion @ School of Sound Recording, Manchester UK, 03/10/08

T++/Hate Soundsystem/Faktion DJs

Refusing to be just another techno night in Manchester, Faktion called in the superlative T++ and the bewildering Hate Soundsystem. 

Residents Padro and Connor were on warm up duties, showing they collect only the finest techno à la Berghain. The main hall was kept as dark as possible, presumably as an effort to evoke memories of warehouse parties and to emphasise its all about the music: no light show to dazzle, no smoke machine. Not much chance of seeing who your dancing next to either. Away from the bars of central Manchester, the School of Sound Recording was never rammed, but was suitably busy for the set by T++.

A Berlin old boy who's early releases surfaced on Chain Reaction and his own DIN label in 1995, T++ is a relatively new project for Torsten Profock. He's also part of Robert Henke's Monolake project, replacing Ableton CEO Gerhard Behles. With Henke also part of the SW development team at Ableton, I reckon I can guess what was running on the T++ laptop.  

He played for an hour at Faktion, his diffuse, reverb drenched sound building in intensity. No place for chords or melody here, the trappings of conventional music discarded and forgotten. Just a bulk of metallic sound. Driven by the 130 bpm tempo, his programming swallows the more familiar patterns of techno, dubstep and electro to make something thoroughly modern, and with an aesthetic that surely demonstrates how vital electronic music is culturally today. Its also excellent dance music. Does sound a lot like Monolake.

The Hate Soundsystem crew mounted the stage to finish off the night. A good deal of hype has surrounded this project: press releases talk of a carload full of DAT tapes with unreleased 91-94 hardcore tracks handed over to the label in Sowerby Bridge, presumably on a dark and stormy night under the auspices of the wicked witch of West Yorkshire. For tonight's show we had 3 guys got on stage fingering their laptops, one with a balaclava, one with a fencing mask, the last indistinct in the gloom. I couldn't work out why it was a 3 man job, but to give them some credit they did make a formidable presentation. 

Whilst the label output has dubstep flavours alongside the oldskool, in the live setting it was all about the jungle. Dark and often interrupted by atmospheric breakdowns. Perhaps this style doesn't manage the intensity and raw malevolence of drum & bass but its no less a product of urban frustration. Some dirt and toughness was absent (probably because they've had their stuff mastered properly, unlike the most junglists in '94), but essential listening for fans of Burial and the like.

With an hour to go there was plenty of space on the floor, a shame to see that but this was some brave programming: techno, electronica and jungle is more than many people can stomach. But with Sequence announcing that their last party will be in November, Faktion may be left to satisfy the cities appetite for forward thinking music.

Michael Curtis