Miss Kittin & The Hacker – Lost Tracks Vol. 2 (Dark Entries single, 2018)

Artwork_MissKittinTheHacker_LostTracksVol2

“We were naive, innocent, adventurous and we didn’t expect anything in return,” is how onetime NovaMute artist Caroline Hervé described her partnership with Michel Amato, which formed after the pair met at a rave in 1996. Better known in the French dance music scene as Miss Kittin and The Hacker respectively, the duo wrote irreverent, sexually-charged music together that had techno as its foundation but which was just as influenced by the likes of D.A.F. and other early Eighties acts operating at the vanguard of electronic music.

Lost Tracks Vol. 2 compiles together four previously unreleased tracks from 1997 / 98, just before their debut EP and some three years ahead of their album releases for DJ Hell’s International DJ Gigolo imprint. On the fidgety opener ‘Upstart’, you can hear that soundclash between late Nineties techno and early Eighties synthpop with a sequenced bassline and icicle-sharp monophonic melodic clusters that sound like an offcut of François Kevorkian’s celebrated remixes of ‘Situation’ by Yazoo. ‘Love On 26’ deals with millennium angst over a bed of jerky electro and squelchy 303 hooks, while the grubby ‘Snuff Movies’ is The Normal’s ‘T.V.O.D.’ recast with the protagonist watching grim underground VHS tapes instead of Fifties road movies.

Closing track ‘The Building’ is a thudding acid house number with industrial edges, devoid of any human feeling whatsoever, complete with a spoken vocal from Hervé that’s as cloying as that deployed by Flying Lizards on ‘Money’. Truly fine lost gems from this inventive pairing.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Richie Hawtin – DE9 Closer To The Edit (NovaMute album, 2002)

novamute | nomu90cd | 2002
Richie Hawtin, outside his Plastikman guise, is a consistently engaging and exciting DJ, and has been responsible for breathing new life into techno. His individual and pioneering approach to DJing is captured perfectly here.

DE9 is ostensibly a mix album, but it could also be described as a solo Hawtin album released under his own name. Except that it is both and neither simultaneously. Like a regular mix CD, the album rolls forward with no breaks, as if it were one very long and varied track, utilising builds and breakdowns, sharp fades, EQ tweaking and edits to control the pace and keep the sound interesting and fresh. There are 31 tracks here, all in little over an hour, each running for around two minutes. This in itself would stand out as a feat of considerable DJ dexterity, except that there are in fact over 70 tracks here, and it is at this point that Hawtin’s album diverges entirely from the genre.

Hawtin has long been an advocate of bringing ‘live’ elements to his DJ sets, using drum machines and Roland TB-303s over decks to avoid being like many other DJs who simply mix tracks together; hence Hawtin comfortably straddles the DJ / live performance divide. Many others have tried this, but Hawtin’s continuing focus on techno exclusively has seen him retain a focused set of underground credentials. DE9 is the logical, yet painstaking next step for Hawtin’s unique DJing approach (‘DE’ stands for ‘Decks and Effects’).

The seventy tracks, by Basic Channel and Carl Craig among others also include a number by Hawtin himself, culled from his Minus and Plastikman / NovaMute releases. Except don’t go trying to spot them – according to his liner notes (how jazz is that?), Hawtin took extracts from tracks (‘Ranging from 1 note to 4 bars’) and created around 700 loops, which were then reassembled as new tracks, representing the 31 chapters here. Another artist may have seized the opportunity, given the heavy disguising of the source material, to pass this off as his own work. But Hawtin, the innovator, is proud of his process, and readily lists which tracks make up each chapter.

I hadn’t listened to techno for several years before listening to this, but this gives me incredible faith in the genre, and I don’t think I’ve heard such a sonically-pleasing compilation of robotic electronic music before. This is one hell of an impressive futuristic journey.

Originally posted 2004; edited 2016.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Elevation – Can You Feel It / Spiral Trance (NovaMute single, 1992)

  

single // Can You Feel It / Spiral Trance

novamute | 12″/cd nomu3 | 1992

Ask any dance music fanatic what word they would associate with the year 1992 and the chances are they will reply, without hesitation, ‘hardcore’. Hardcore dance music was a fusion of sped-up breakbeats, thudding drums, speaker-wrecking dub bass, crowd noise, whistles and a synth effect that could only ever be described as sounding like a hoover; the effect was a sort of bludgeoning euphoria. Hardcore was, at times, ridiculous and the genre was ultimately short-lived, mutating quickly into a multitude of other genres, not least of which was the even more breakbeat-heavy jungle.

Elevation, a pseudonym of producer Shaun Imrei, has all the trademark hardcore traits listed above, plus housey piano and some gutsy, euphoric vocals courtesy of an unnamed contributor (she sounds a little like Sylvia Tella, who guested on Pop Will Eat Itself’s 92ºF) which rescues ‘Can You Feel It’ from the nihilistic quality of some other hardcore tunes, and also ensuring the track could work in a variety of DJ boxes. Okay, so the piano sounds a little weak and the whistles, bells and crowd noise may feel a bit contrived twenty odd years later, but there’s no denying the uplifting energy that ‘Can You Feel It’ possesses, marking the track out as a major highlight in a dance music style that rapidly went off the boil. And that manic ‘hoover’ sound still sounds as thrilling today, even if its potential as a rival to the TB303 was limited. The 12″ and CD released by NovaMute contains mixes taken from the tune’s original release on Creative Rhythm earlier in 1992, as well as a previously unreleased version (the Mutation Mix) which contains a breakdown filled with an excellent King Tubby-style dub passage.

For its NovaMute release, ‘Can You Feel It’ was backed by ‘Spiral Trance’ which was produced by Imrei and John O’Halloran. Starting with some ethereal vocals that sound like they belong on a Clannad record, ‘Spiral Trance’ retains only the barest trace elements of a hardcore aesthetic in some of its sounds, instead offering a deep, entrancing cut which doesn’t sound dissimilar to early Orbital or Juno Reactor. There’s not a heavy breakbeat in sight, Imrei and O’Halloran opting instead for a carefully-constructed 4/4 beat and a bass sound that could spill over into acid madness, but doesn’t, and for once this song is all the better for it.

12″/cd:
A1. / 1. Can You Feel It (Mutation Mix)
A2. / 2. Can You Feel It (Extended Mix)
B1. / 3. Spiral Trance (Into The Light Mix)
B2. / 4. Can You Feel It (Remix)

Originally posted 2012; re-posted 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

The 7th Plain – Wishbone

    

The 7th Plain was an alias that future NovaMute / Mute artist Luke Slater used for a brief time, the first album issued under the name being the brilliant My Wise Yellow Rug released in 1994 by General Production Recordings (GPR). The 7th Plain found Slater operating in a firmly ambient mode, complementing the more dancefloor-friendly tracks he issued under his Planetary Assault Systems alias.

‘Wishbone’ doesn’t appear on My Wise Yellow Rug, but it sounds like it should have been included there. Here Slater lays down a rich, slowly-developing tapestry of mostly pleasant sounds underpinned by a hissing rhythm that sits somewhere between skeletal electro and the factory-like drum pattern from Depeche Mode’s ‘Ice Machine’. Toward the end Slater introduces a bassline constructed from a somewhat darker synth sound while a repetitive arpeggio sequence takes on a queasy insistence as the track concludes.

Throughout, even as Slater drops in what feels like a organic, jazzy looseness at the very beginning via vaguely piano riffs, there’s an underlying mechanistic, robotic quality to ‘Wishbone’; that reminds me of a review of one of the tracks on My Wise Yellow Rug which compared the track in question to Vince Clarke covering Vangelis’s theme to Blade Runner. In the interests of full disclosure, I actually bought the album on the strength of that line alone. At the time it wasn’t apparent that Slater would go on to become a Mute artist, but I was pleased he ultimately signed to the label, though I can honestly say that his work as The 7th Plain was always more interesting to me than the output under his own name.

Equanimity was released as a double compilation by the GPR label in 1995 and features some really good tracks from Max 404, D:Fuse, Beaumont Hannant, Russ Gabriel and other artists from the imprint’s roster. It sits squarely alongside the Warp series of Artificial Intelligence / listening electronica albums but at times seems to have much more of a concrete, robust edge compared to some of the ambient noodling that Warp’s series tended towards. With Max 404 and a crunchy Bari-speed rave track from the absurdly-named Radioactive Lamb being two possible exceptions, it would have been slightly inconceivable to find any of the tracks here finding themselves sitting comfortably in a techno set of the time, but an adventurous DJ could have probably found a way. They usually could.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Various Artists – Artificial Intelligence (Warp compilation, 1992)

  
compilation // Artificial Intelligence

Warp’s groundbreaking Artificial Intelligence compilation did what so many other seminal compilations did and effectively made a scene concrete. Like Eno’s No New York did for post-punk in the US, it could be argued confidently that Warp did the same for the particular brand of electronica over which the Sheffield label presided, spawning a series of intriguing albums by the label that gave voice to many of the artists that were showcased on the compilation.

Artificial Intelligence arrived in 1992, the same year that hardcore had rudely woken the listening public from their slumber, and on many of the tracks included here there’s still a whiff of detuned breakbeats as opposed to the haphazard glitch beats that the likes of Autechre would come to represent over the next two decades. In fact, Autechre’s ‘Crystel’, one of two tracks by Sean Booth and Rob Brown included here, sounds positively like a conventional instrumental synthpop track compared to the jagged rhythms and icy melodies they would become poster children for. Tracks like Musicology’s ‘Preminition’ are not exactly the bedroom listening we came to expect from the AI series, and instead sound like straightforward rave tracks, complete with menacing basslines and euphoric soul samples.

Of interest to Mute / NovaMute fans are three tracks from Speedy J and Richie Hawtin, here operating under his short-lived UP! alias. Hawtin’s ‘Spiritual High’ was originally released on a 12” song on Hawtin’s Probe label, and later released as one side of NovaMute’s Probe Mission 2 12” as part of a tentative partnership between the UK and Canadian labels (the other track on that 12” was by Public Energy, an alias of Speedy J). For a track taken from a relatively early part of Hawtin’s career, the format of his later work is immediately recognisable in the thudding snare-heavy beats, acid squelches and the way his track repeats endlessly but still builds toward several peaks over the course of its six minute duration.

‘Fill 3’ by Speedy J forms part of a series of tracks with that title, but as far as I can tell, was an exclusive to Artificial Intelligence. By the time Jochem Paap had arrived at NovaMute his music had undergone many changes, and ‘Fill 3’ sounds positively naïve in comparison with his later work, though with its synth pads and shimmering textures it is undoubtedly one of the most pleasantly ambient tracks on the whole collection. Given the momentum implied by its bubbling patterns and fragile melodies, it feels like it’s crying out for a beat sequence of some form, but to J’s credit he resisted the temptation of adding one. The other Speedy J track on Artificial Intelligence, ‘De-Orbit’, was featured on his Warp album Ginger and is a slowed-down, chilled-out affair with hip-hops breaks, wherein the languid pace allows for intricate details to emerge through the greater sense of space.

Alongside Autechre, Artificial Intelligence showcased Warp stalwart Aphex Twin, here in his Dice Man guise but with a track from his Polygon Window album for the label, as well as B12 (Musicology) and The Black Dog under the name I.A.O. The album also included Orb’s Alex Paterson with a live version of the classic ‘Loving You’, though it’s not immediately apparent what makes this a Paterson solo effort rather than an Orb performance.

1994’s follow-up compilation mined the same vein, with many of the same players, but branched out further, and also illustrated how much the electronic music could evolve in just two short years. For this reviewer, I bought Artificial Intelligence 2 before the first instalment, and listening in reverse made this first compilation sound decidedly tentative, but I nevertheless fully understood the importance of what Warp had assembled here.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Object – NovaMute DJ Record Bag (MuteBank merchandise, 1996)

  
Sometime in 1996 I bought this NovaMute-branded DJ record bag from MuteBank. I think I’d been persuaded after seeing it advertised in the first MuteBank A4 catalogue, Statement #1. The bag in the catalogue has a white NovaMute logo on the front, but when mine arrived it was pure black, with a shiny black logo on the flap. Statement #1 lists the DJ bag with a catalogue reference of MBM31 – MuteBank Merchandise 31.

My plan had been to use this as the bag that I’d use to cart my university texts and papers around campus. Back then you could identify the guys who were into dance music by the record bags they’d lug around, as they’d always be branded up with some funky label or record shop. It was a signal of solidarity. I wanted to nail my colours to the NovaMute mast but when the bag arrived I decided to use it instead for its intended purpose, namely storing records.

The pure black, thick plastic record bag with its shiny ‘classic’ NovaMute logo did its job more than adequately, but I no longer need it. It’s in perfect condition and its age is only given away by the fact that a) NovaMute don’t exist any longer; b) they ditched this ‘classic’ logo in favour of plain text inside a rectangular box several years after I bought this (which was always a shame, I thought); and c) no-one makes bags like this anymore. I think it can hold about 30 12″ records and has pockets under the flap for the random stuff that DJs probably used to carry around to clubs back in the day. 

If anyone wants to buy it off me, get in touch. Otherwise you’ll find it on eBay at the weekend. Note that this is the start of a major decluttering initiative on my part, which will see me offloading lots of things, including (I suspect) the bulk of my Mute record collection.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Beatz – Divergences & Contradictions Of Electronic Music (Analog Solutions film, 2014)

Beatz

Beatz – Divergences & Contradictions Of Electronic Music is a documentary film by DJ Eduardo De La Calle that surveys the health of the global dance music scene.

An independent – some might say underground – film, De La Calle’s methods veer toward the lo-fi, being largely just what he captured as he travelled around the world to interview many of dance music’s legends (Carl Craig, Derrick May, Marshall Jefferson, Carl Cox, Laurent Garnier, Juan Atkins) and newer talents in order to collect their views on what they think dance music has become and where it’s going.

Although the likes of Garnier ultimately deliver a spirited reading of the enduring vitality of the international club scene, elsewhere the vibe is uniformly sombre. Much decrying is made of the likes of Beatport as a means of manipulating tastes and pre-filtering selections for the listener in a way that record shops never did; similarly impassioned comments are delivered about the supposed commodification of dance music and mp3s – particularly unmastered tracks constructed of nothing more than three loops (echoes of punk’s limited musicianship aside, such tracks inevitably lack any particular human quality) – and DJs that eschew proper mixing in favour of simply queuing up poor quality mp3s and letting a machine synchronise them; one commentator likens buying records off the internet to drinking at home. Vinyl is seen as the golden medium, encouraging lots of fetishistic comments about its fragility, malleability and even artistic merit, while others counter this with a view that the medium itself doesn’t matter – it’s the ideas that make something original or not. Minus artist and Richie Hawtin protégé Matthew Jonson (they even dress the same and have the same hair) sums it up perfectly with ‘the machine will never have the idea’.

Throughout the film, the ‘human’ quality comes through in a loud way – perhaps somewhat surprisingly for a strand of music that is supposedly all about technology. That human dimension appears most negatively with diatribes against the super-DJ where showmanship has overtaken the actual music, or in discussions about ‘live’ versus programmed music where mistakes can happen, therefore allowing a real unpredictability can creep in. Carl Craig talks enthusiastically about the influence of jazz on dance music, an often overlooked input into the genre and one which perfectly illustrates the impact of individual flair over lumpen technology. Mute‘s own Apparat (Sascha Ring) offers his own slightly bemused reaction to talking to people in clubs and finding that people don’t know – or don’t care – who’s on the bill, as if the natural conclusion of the so-called facelessness of techno’s logical conclusion comes as a surprise to him.

The film is a bit rough around the edges, especially with regard to the subtitles, but this globetrotting film was shot with evident care and attention – much more so than most lo-fi productions. The soundtrack features a number of intricate pieces by De La Calle himself which had this reviewer feeling nostalgic for his old techno collection. For Mute fans, as well as Apparat, Speedy J and BMB‘s Surgeon also appear as talking heads.

The film can be streamed at Eduardo De La Calle’s website or below.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence