Sound Of Thunder #065 – Mancuso To Soundcloud Djs Via Australia
I’m still working my way through all the brilliant music that has come out in the last few months, so this edition of the Sound of Thunder has some of that, some new stuff, some old stuff and a nod in the direction of the man who started it all.
Ewan Jansen – Aqua Libre (Red Ember Records)
Early this summer I bought the Country Music EP, a record by someone called Ewan Janson on Chez Damier's new(ish) label Inner Balance. I had not heard of the artist, but the music grabbed me straight away and one of the tracks, Harvest, became a bit of a favourite over summer (that intro!). As one does when they discover a ‘new’ artist that they like, I did a bit of digging on Mr Janson, it turned out he's been around a long time, he ran his own label, has had stacks of records out, great deep house records, they all go for serious money on the second-hand collectors' market, and I’d never even heard of him or his label. What the hell was going on here, I asked myself? Then I dug just a little deeper and it turned out that maybe it wasn’t that surprising I didn't know too much about him after all.
Let’s rewind about two decades, to Perth, the isolated capital city of Western Australia, where a young Ewan, a Tangerine Dream fan and avid Future Music reader, was cobbling together a home studio, hooking up analogue synths discarded by cover bands going digital, to his Atari1040, as he slowly taught himself about the wonders of MIDI. Whilst was this was evolving, Ewan and his friend Justin Zerbst, were exposed to house music at Thursday night parties at some local underground haunt. Not just any old house music, but house music on labels like Mood and Grooves, and Track Mode, which took the boys down a very particular path, which led the to set up Perth’s first deep house label, Red Ember Records.
It was quite an unusual label, the quality of the releases was high, but lacking a pressing plant, each release was not pressed in a the traditional way, but was lathe cut on limited runs of 20-40 polycarbonate discs, and made this slightly bonkers chap, Peter King, who lives in a plastic house in New Zealand, Check this short news clip about him, his operation and his plastic house!
Eventually label progressed to a couple of 200 unit vinyl pressing releases before like most people that pursue a labour of love, they decided to knock it all on head, and disappeared.
The thing is the music Ewan and Justin produced during this time wasn’t just good, it was sublime, and over the years, these super rare and rarefied records became sought after in underground heads circles. Then last year, Brian Morrison and Going Good released Lost Embers, a collection of unreleased tracks from Ewan's DAT collection, all made during the Red Ember heyday, and the label was thrust into broader view. It’s an excellent EP too, which demonstrates the longevity of the label’s sound.
It has also given Ewan a taste for the house music business again and the platform to re-launch Red Ember Records, the first release on which, Aqua Libre, has now hit the shops. As one might expect, it’s deep and it’s good. The A-Side is great, bold and clubby, but for me, the B-Side is where it is at. The sweet deepness of Freckles, which does not bore in the way deep house can at times, and moreover, the Castel, with its downbeat staccato percussion, and intertwining synths – it is pure emotion in musical form and one of the best tracks I've heard this year.
DJ Apres Ski – Ares Ski (Major Problems)
Do they say music is pretty cyclical and it would seem that cycle rotated round to reach the rave scene of the early 90, as slightly nostalgic, possibly rose tinted, references to rave culture seem to be creeping into today’s house music on an increasingly regular basis, including ridiculous DJ names!
Maybe leading the way were those cheeky Norwegians DJ Sotofett, DJ Fettburger and most brilliantly playful, DJ Candle In The Wind. But now we have a tidal wave, including an actual DJ Wave (record of the year), a DJ Seinfield (we’ll analyse him soon), DJ Slyngshot (more on him even sooner), DJ Boring (seriously), DJ Different (DJ Irony?), DJ Sports (not very likely), and DJ Windows XP (hold on, that's my OS…).
Actually, it’s all quite fun and while some will never make it off of youtube and disappear, other are really pretty good and like Sotofett and Fettburger before them, will undoubtedly go onto great things. I'm not sure Dublin based DJ Apres Ski will end up in the fullness of time but right now, fresh outta Soudncloud, he has a very good 4 tracker out on his home town's Major Problems.
It starts off with the decent to middling title track, Apres Ski, which features that loon bird sample 808 State made famous, before things heat up with Safety Area. The contrasting textures of its rough bass drop and silky synth lines, really hit the spot and it does pretty much everything I want modern house music to do. On the flip the Off Piste Mix of Aquapump Softlinerer is not much more than an interlude, but a gorgeous one nonetheless, before the we get to the laid back main mix for the same track. There are more rave references in the samples, but this wouldn't sound out of place on Moodhut or Acting Press, which I guess is decent standard to be hitting with a first release.
Rising Sun – Yours (Kristofferson Kristofferson)
I was first introduced Steffen Laschinski, aka to Rising Sun, when I bought the amazing 'Message' back in 2012. Whilst the music blew me away, it has to be one of the most challenging records ever to play in a dark nightclub – it was pressed on a yellow vinyl 7" which played from the inside out and started with a fade-in beat. I mean, seriously, what the hell are you meant to do with that? I had a go once and after a couple of attempts to find the starting groove, only to see needle skate across the label, I gave up, and made my first edit, tape splice style, so I could play it out, which I think mean I must have really loved it.
That love affair has continued to this day, I've bought Steffen’s albums, more 7"s (he does love a 7") and clear vinyl 12s, with the Convextion mix of Nostalgia becoming an opening hour staple at Thunder. But all of these tracks are pretty much four to the floor though, so I was a little surprised find on trend rave breakbeats featuring on this release. Yep, that's certainly another aspect of rave nostalgia that is everywhere at that the moment, break beats. Once again, it’s those Norwegians at the forefront, with tracks like things like Fettburger’s Electric Blue and Sotofett's Bhaki Crew release leading the way.
These are actually great records and they felt fresh when they were released too. Now it's everywhere though, every other teenager on Soundcloud has whopping great Amen breaks in their tunes and I'm not sure why irks me, but it does. It can't be that most people that seem to be into what was inner city, working class and ostensibly black sound, are now middle class white kids from the home counties – that would be hypocritical because after all, I'm a fan of disco and house music, and neither of those were nurtured in leafy North London. It also can't be that these people were in short trousers when WD40 and lighters were a thing at Paradise in Islington (where the Angel shopping centre is now), because I was in primary school when Frankie played the Warehouse. But maybe it’s because of there seems to be a re-imaging of that scene in a modern, sterile context, and that has a faint whiff of cultural appropriation about it?
Part of what made those raves, the birth of hardcore and then jungle, exciting was the edge. It wasn't about love and peace, the music was hard and fast, and there was often an undercurrent of aggression that accompanied. Personally, I saw people get filled in at Crazy Club, slapped off the podium at Rage and I was at Labrynth at Silver City, an old school yardie club in Wood Green, the night one security firm chopped up another with machetes and took over the door. The council estate youth of Stonebridge Park, Tottenham and Hackney would chew people up and spit them out, all in the course of standard evening, with no eyelids batted. Now though, it's safe music, music made on computers in Germany and played on computers by blokes from Hampshire that own half million pound flats in East London. Maybe it’s okay to re-contextualize this music but context really is everything.
One thing the disco and house revisionists have done well, is understand the context in which this music was created and pay respect that. They've tracked down people such Nicky Siano, David Mancuso, Greg Wilson, Gene Hunt, and even the full Dance Mania crew, and brought them back into the spot light, giving credit where credit is due. So maybe that will happen here too and we'll start to some of the people that made rave music, jungle, drum and bass, MCs and all, playing at an Instagram ravers festival near you soon?
Anyway, I digress, because 'Importance' is the stand out tune on this release. Capturing some of the atmosphere of 'Message' – the strings, the vocal hook and with that breakbeat, albeit used in way that is sympathetic and complimentary to the rest of the track rather than just plonked on top of it. It sahres a similar vibe to Queerifications and Ruins era DJ Sprinkles and really quite lovely. The flips side, ‘Yours’, is more basic with its choppy, panning vocal hook. It all comes pressed, helpfully, on black vinyl that plays the normal way round, and with a little print of some spacey stuff, which is the sort of thing that makes me happy.
DJ Slyngshot – Love Unlimited (Yappin')
Okay, okay, it's another one of those silly DJ names AND this boy isn't shy of break beat either, but I do think Offernbach-based producer DJ Slyngshot is destined for great things. His Battlecat EP, which came out at the end of 2015 on Slyngshot’s own Yappin’ Records and features the absolutely fantastic ‘They Still Can't Grasp This’, really turned some heads and is now going for almost 50 quid on Discogs.
The latest release probably isn’t going to reward speculators in quite the same way, because the (battle) cat is well and truly out of the bag, and I’d imagine they’ve pressed up quite a few more copies than earlier releases. Only one tracks has found its way onto youtube, Tryna Get My Act Together, which comes on a little like a modern day Pal Joey, off-kilter jazz house. But the highlight of to this release is the snappily titled '180554', sample heavy, punchy MPC beats, synth loops, and a super catchy vocal loop, which sounds like Robert Owens, implores you to "Just snap your fingers", and quickly worms its way into your brain for the rest of the day.
Moff and Tarkin – Mango Bangers (Lagaffe Tales)
In the last edition of Sound of Thunder, I told you about new Icelandic label Lagaffe Tales first release. Well, the second release is out now and it’s a good ’un too.
It really is a game of two halves though, or more accurately/Amercianly, a game of four quarters. ‘Naked’ is the lead track on side one, traditionally the strongest of the package, is pleasant but not particularly exceptional, kind of like Jack J does filter house. The chirpy, piano driven ‘I Got This’, is much better, washed out, like the mix engineer forgot to turn the kind drum up, sax stabs, contrast tones and undulating synths, in stark contrast to the previous track, it’s refreshingly original.
On the flip we have the Change sampling, Mutual Distraction, which is very effective and probably the track most people will buy this record for. It does, however, follow the blueprint of Mark E’s ‘R+B Drunkie’, so if you like that, and lots of people do, you’re probably going to like this too. The final track on the record might be my favourite though, ‘Skutla’ is not standard club fayre, keyboards pitter patter over hi-hats and handclaps, before the synths growl in and a loop, I think from Drewsky’s ‘Wigged Out’, flits in and out in the background, and then just as you think it’s a about to kick in, it’s gone. Excellent stuff.
That Disco Thing: Powerline – Double Journey (Elite)
Earlier this week, on Monday, David Mancuso, one of the true forefathers of the disco scene, and in some ways, the house music too, passed away. We was 72 years old. Lots has been written about David by people that know far more about him then I, so I will not attempt to cover the same ground. But something that has been hammered home this week, is the magnitude of his influence on the people that went on to shape both the disco and house music scenes.
Tim Lawrence’s seminal book, Love Saves The Day, which maps the birth and early years disco and club in 1970s New York, starting line is Mancuso’s Valentine’s day loft party in 1970, the same party the book takes its name from. Everything, it seems, flows from this.
In the last few days I have read stunning eulogies and amazing tales. I have seen an email written by Frankie Knuckles, describing being taken to The Loft for the first time by his good friend, Larry Levan. It makes the hairs on the back of neck stand on end, and Frankie, the godfather of house music, says it was an experience that changed his life forever. Nicky Siano said it was at The Loft he realised he had to become a DJ and how Mancuso guided and supported him. Francois Kervorkian has written about the profound and continuous musical influence he had on those who knew and remarking upon some of ideas David was responsible for, such as record pools. Heidi, DJ Harvey’s partner in musical crime, has said that it was after dancing at The Loft with Harvey that they returned to London and their first party together. And these are just a few snippets.
For me, I read about Mancuso, The Loft and poured over the lists of records played there. This helped form and build my knowledge of that style of music. To this day I’m still finding records I learnt about, indirectly, from Mancuso. Records such as this, Powerline’s ‘Double Journey’, a British jazz funker popularised by Mancuso in New York, which I found in my local record a shop a few weeks ago.
Nothing has summed up how wide ranging Mancuso influence as succinctly as Matthew Krysko, resident at Manchester’s Warehouse Project. He said, “He was our Big Bang. The creator of our elements. The year dot. Our day one.” And he’s right.
Coming Up Next Time
Lots of new music I haven’t had time to write about this time. Max Graef, Damiano Von Erkhert vs Egyptian Lover, Brian Harden, and new label, South Street.
If you can’t wait that long, check Sound of Thunder’s facebook page >>here<<