Saturday, April 7, 2012

Water sports – Nautical dub, dolphin islands, Scuba bashing, Monolake and deep sea dwellers

Porter Ricks – Biokinetics

"The nautical view evokes a clear vision, something freeing. The club as a diving platform, and techno as a nautical sound experience, a project that lies between clubs and art."

The Type label has just re-released the seminal Porter Ricks album “Biokinetics” for the first time in 16 years. The album by the duo of Andy Mellwig and Thomas Köner was originally issued as a series of 12”s and then as one of the famous self-destructing metal boxes on the Chain Reaction label. One curiosity of the re-release that has not been picked up on is the cover art, more so since a characteristic of the original Chain Reaction label was the absence of art, only a logo and track names all emblazoned in the labels trademark steely, cold colours. With so many watery track titles like “Nautical dub”, “Port Gentil” and “Nautical zone” as well as the group’s name deriving from a character in the dolphin TV show Flipper, you would think that Type might have gone for a more aquatic cover image.

The image chosen was a sepia tinted photo negative of the sky above peeling grey clouds, watched over by a black sun. Although the clouds can easily be induced to resemble the ocean, there is something a little stuck-on or last minute about the image, perhaps more so since after 16 years it is finally receiving a visual christening. But the choice is difficult since as well as the sea, there are also clear urban atmospheres within the album, particularly the train noises of the brilliant opener “Port Gentil”, still one of the all-time great techno tracks. Now all we need is a more focused Chain reaction release for the releases that have not yet received it.

Dolphins into the Future - Canto Arquipelago

Lieven Martens has just released his latest album as Dolphins into the Future entitled “Canto Arquipelago”. The album was apparently recorded by Martens in the fishing village of São João on the small island Ilha Do Pico in the Azores archipelago. “Canto” is a much less electronic outing than previous records and even resembles a kind of watery jazz at times. Nonetheless, fans will still find Martens particular musical tropes all over the album, from wind and wave noises, to imitations of dolphins and the evocation of the presence of people. There are two lovely videos to accompany the release, one an animation with text by Zahid Jiwa from the Dolphins official website.

And also a film by Martens under the name Lieven Moana that serves a trailer for the album.

Scuba – Personality

Scuba’s new album has been ruffling feathers as far as the eye can see. One of the biggest problems seems to be either the lack of commitment by critics to defending it or panning it outright, resulting in reviews with mixed messages. On the other hand, the public response is also confused with many upset by the perceived change in direction, something that actually occurred sometime ago as reported here, something that in the end should be taken as a good sign.

An average score seems to have been about 3-5/5 taken from the various sites, with Pitchfork giving it a more positive 8.1 via the words of RA contributor Andrew Ryce. Check out Any Decent Music for an interesting overview of reviews. But rather than letting the critics talk, it is perhaps more informative to look at the comments for where the album went right and wrong, albeit the language of comments is often a bit crude.

On Resident Advisor, rezerekted23 maybe gets the politics right, but says very little about the album itself:

“It's funny, I could tell that their score for the album wasn't going to be that good because they took so long to get it out. It seems like the longer they take to put out a review of a super-hyped album, the lower a score that it will have.

Also, knowing what we do about Scuba, when has he ever been content to stick to the same sound? Pure dubstep is so far gone that it isn't just him that's abandoning the sound. As for the forward-thinking-bass sound of Triangulation, while he could put another album of that out today... even that sound is starting to fade.

House and techno is what's in right now. Look at Pinch, Martyn, Instra:mental, Ben UFO, Pearson Sound etc. Everyone is making throw-back/ retro house, techno and breaks. Maybe he feels like he needs to keep up with this trend? Also, he's lived in Berlin now for four-and-half years, I'm surprised that he is only now just making 4/4 stuff on a regular basis.”

Still at RA, Adam420 addresses the musical pros and cons in a succinct way:

 "Also it feels a bit juvenile and naive, but the production quality is still almost as good as you'll get.”

This hits the nail on the head: the music is outstanding as ever and in some cases its colours and rushing floods of sound are quite exhilarating, but invariably there is a clumsy moment that undermines all the good work, particular the much derided vocals on “The Hope” and the spoken word opening of “Ignition Key” which is otherwise a fantastic track.

Funklestiltskin says on RA “What a nice, shiny piece of shit this album was.” Which is a tad harsh as well as crude. But taking the analogy further with the phrase “You can’t polish a turd” you can invert it to become “You can’t polish a great track with a crappy vocal”.

Over at FACT, JD says:

“What's unfair is critics bending over backwards trying to praise this album with half-assed platitudes like "fun!" and "honest" and "ballsy".” “I do suppose nothing quite says "fuck you" like making a tepid electro/prog-trance album and having no one (that matters anyway) call it out.”

It is hard to call out an album that is let down by only a few key moments, just as it is difficult to really stand behind it, but again the problem of JD seems to be that he/she/it is looking for another moody “Triangulation” and won’t let go. Anyone like JD still doubting the new direction should see the well selected, but strangely mixed DJ Kicks set from Photek which also showcases a certain big beat sound to see that Scuba is still up with the times.

The question is still why all this naivety? Why such a fun and dare I say it “teenage” album from Scuba? (There is a CD version and a poster of the cover art included in the vinyl by the way, if I needed to justify the teenage angle more – and is the cover really a hand in the air and a sun as I thought it was a burning match?). Is all this “fun” due to a reduced work ethic and a “that will do” attitude? The production quality and excellent sequencing doesn’t sound like it to me. Was it part of the big change that crystallised around “Adrenalin” and/or a new way to enjoy producing? Maybe. Dubstep has certainly been dour and paranoid at times, like drum n bass used to be (and maybe still is?). Scuba’s output has also been prolific for a guy who is also playing out a lot and running a label, so maybe something a bit lighter is necessary for state of mind if nothing else. But this also answers the question to some degree: a look at where Scuba has been playing will show his rise from dark and dank dubstep clubs to the big stage and now beyond. Last year he headlined Sonar in Barcelona and this year he will play indie rock festival Primavera Sound. Scuba’s audience has changed, his environment has changed, even if some of his fans didn’t move on. Finally, after so many years of hard work and making cutting edge music, I would not begrudge him commercial success at all. At least he has done it with a decent album.

Scuba himself can have the last word, posting on RA:

“Posted by Orbital316It: "honestly doesn't feel like a big radical departure from his other work to me, as some people are making it out to be".
Yup, people saying the opposite obviously haven't listened to either the old or new stuff in much detail. Adrenalin definitely was a departure, that was the point. There's as much continuity as there is difference between this album as the last one.”

Not bad, even for an Arsenal supporter!

Finally two curiosities. The squeaky chipmunk intro at the start of “Ne1butu” intones

“I’ve never heard you break it down like this”

There is a striking similarity between this and the end to the Mouse on Mars track “Polaroyced” from their new album “Parastrophics” when a similarly high pitched voice whines

“Jesus, what happened to Mouse On Mars? They’ve departed so far from their beginning!”

The actual vocal line is edited out from the end of this simple, but great video sadly, but the main riff of this track also sounds like it might be a homage to Manuel Göttsching’s "E2E4". But this micro-trend for self-reference is quite curious.

Scuba’s album has many trance elements to it, without quite stooping to stereotype, a genre I recently wondered whether it would ever surface into respectability again. Similarly, one of the last questions asked in my 2011 round up  was whether or not Drum n Bass might make a comeback this year. There are a few moments on “Personality” that hint at a more drum n bass direction, none more so than “Cognitive dissonance”.

As well as this Scuba track, there is the DnB sound of Monolake (see below), the widely reported news of the demise of Commix and reviews of their “Dusted” collection as well as recent positive reviews  of Kasra’s “Fabriclive 62” mix amongst others. Not quite enough to suggest a comeback, but maybe a few archival releases and a few more cross-over singles and we might be there.

Monolake – Ghosts

Speaking of DnB, and also of genre confusions, Robert Hencke’s brilliant “Ghosts” album for his own Imbalance Computer Music imprint has ruffled few feathers while simultaneously causing critics to drool. While it represents another impeccable release, one can’t help but feel more sympathy for Scuba given that “Ghosts” doesn’t really go much beyond “Silence”, or even the jittery sound of earlier Monolake releases, and yet is still lauded, whereas Scuba cops it for trying something different. Similarly, Henke seems to get away with appropriating maligned genres like DnB without negative consequences, whereas the audience is indifferent to Scuba.

Perhaps the difference between the two is the same issues as before, just a few crappy vocals makes the difference between brilliant and good. It is of note that the title track is the opening track and bears the unmistakable robotic lyric:

 “You/do not/exist – Get out of my head”

Somehow this opening seems like a portal: the rest of the album resembles as much literal landscape as soundscape, with the ghostly protagonist left to wander through the smoky, skeletal world, wondering if he/she is truly dead. It is tempting to try and interpret the text of the inner sleeve and the track titles, “Lilith” the first woman, “the existence of time”, “Aligning the daemon”, but the mystery only unfurls further, just like the music itself which slips further and further into textural detail with every closer listen. The cover images of the two releases are also outstanding. “Silence” converted what should have been the blue and white of sky and snow into pink and yellow, not so much sickly as vivid and more alive. “Ghosts” cover should be a spectral black and white, but shimmers with faded green and sepia tones as if blooming in reverse.

Drexciya – Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller

Clone Classic Cuts have just announced  the second instalment of the lovely Drexciya re-release project. While we wait for this, it is worth returning to two things brought up in The Wire issue 321 (2010) which features a Drexciya primer, but also a story about Turner Prize-nominated artists The Otolith Group who created a film work “Hydra decapita”  based around the mythology of Drexciya. No excerpts from the film are available, but there is plenty of other material and interviews available for the curious.

The Otolith Group are not the only artists to take inspiration from the myths of Drexciya. For the last few years, Ellen Gallagher has been exhibiting a series of paintings  called “Coral Cities” also based on the underwater world of abandoned slaves created by Drexciya.

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