Sound Of Thunder #066 – Something Boring?
There is lots of stuff to talk about this week. Brilliant modern jazz fusion from Germany and grimy, deep house from Canada on Funkineven’s Apron label. Old school Chicago house on Let’s Pet Puppies and new school Chicago house from Brain Harden, with a sublime remix from Detroit’s Patrice Scott. Offenbach and Los Angles collide and form a house hip-hop hybrid on the new DVE label. Another new label, South Street, delivers house and techno from California. And then there’s DJ Boring, who seems to be at the centre of a number of online storms. Does his new release signal the end of creativity as we know it, or is he and what he stands for ushering Youtube consumption of house music into the mainstream?
Max Graef – Apron EP (Apron)
Young Berliner, Max Graef, has been making a bit of name for himself over the last 2 or 3 years with releases on labels such Uncanny Valley, Box Holz Records, Ninja Tune and Money $ex Records, which he runs with Glenn Astro and Oye Records’ Delfonic. His music leans heavily towards jazz as an influence but also takes in house, hip hop, electronica, rock, and, well, pretty much everything else. His reputation as a DJ is growing rapidly too, with his eclectic taste, fluid programming, and technical prowess helping him stand out from the crowd, and securing him a guest mix on Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide show, along with the ubiquitous Boiler Room slot, amongst other things.
With all this in mind, Mr Graef releasing record on Funkineven’s Apron Records seems like the perfect fit really and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Both the opening track, ‘Purpunerner Nurnwurz’ (maybe this makes sense in German?), and metallically harsh ‘Winkelrose’, sound much like something Steven Julien could have had had a hand in himself but the highlight of the EP comes on the flip. The B-Side kicks off with what is little more than an interlude, ‘Cheap Jazz Fusion Intro’, before we are treated to ‘B.E.’ which sounds a little like a house Johnny Hammond or an up to date Detroit Experiment, but with that Berlin vibe. It’s a modern day fusion – and there is certainly nothing cheap about it, it’s one of the best records you’ll hear this year.
Adam Feingold – Ascension EP (Apron)
Apron Records have been on a bit of a roll for a while now and as, ahem, renowned surfers of the zeitgeist here at SOT, we are up for a listen for most of the new house sounds coming out of Canada at the moment too, so the recent EP from Montreal based producer, Adam Feingold, was always likley to push the right buttons. The title track, ‘Ascension’, sounds even more like a Funkineven-esque than the A-Side of Max Graef’s record, but that isn’t really a bad thing, with huge synths sweeps, acidic bubbles and distorting double kicks being the order of the day. The other side is a far more atmospheric excursion into a deeper sound, laid back synths, undulating high hats, the track almost throbs in moody, very late night or very early morning kind of way. Both tracks have distinctly different aural textures but are excellent nonetheless.
Damiano von Erckert – California (DVE)
Damiano von Erckert is quite annoying really. Another young German producer who has made a name for himself over the last 4 years or so, the sometimes collaborator with Max Graef, was only born in 1989 – the year I really started going to acid house clubs. He’s also a pretty bloody good DJ, has already established one decent record label .ava, for which he manages to come up with some quite for amusing record names, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the little shit is pretty good looking too. Good job I’m not the jealous type… Anyway, he’s just launched another record label, DVE (Damiano von Erckert, geddit?), with the debut release, California, produced by himself with a remix from West Coast hip hop and electro legend, Egyptian Lover.
Damiano’s original is breezy but infectious house, with hooky little vocal snippets and cool strings, it has probably come out at the wrong time of the year because it does feel like summer music. But if the original has you reaching for the Ray Bans, then the Egyptian Lover will have you wishing you were cruising down the Pacific State Highway, muscle car, the roof down, wind in your hair and sun on your skin, with his skitty rap about the pleasures of titular West Coast state, and old school electro beats. It isn’t breaking any new ground but it is happy and certainly works.
I suspect this original material might not be the main reason people buy this record though, because tucked away on B2 is ‘Symphonie of a Brother’, Damiano’s collaboration with Funkycan and the first release on his .ava label. The original EP on which it featured was limited 200 copies and now exchanges hands for some fairly serious money, as it’s regarded as a bit of a modern house classic. Yep, Damiano has a modern house classic under his belt too. At least I have better glasses than him though. I think…
DJ Boring – Winona (E-Beamz)
Some of you might remember in the last edition of SOT I talked about the prevalence silly DJ names amongst the Soundcloud producer community? Well, this record is upped on up from Soundcloud, then found its way onto to youtube via a channel renowned for being a home for such tracks, and within a fairly short space of time, it’s clocked up half a million views. HALF A FUCKING MILLION! It’s not even a real record, well not yet, anyway. The online debate is fairly staggering as well, 500 plus comments with all sorts of people picking apart the production, debate the musical merits of the track, speculating about the real identity of the producer (is it actually Mall Grab?), and now it’s physical release is pending, the Discogs discussion is ramping up too.
Just to reiterate, this is an unsigned producer no one has ever heard of before. Maybe this begs the question, is this what the future of the music industry looks like? Organic growth within an online streaming sub-culture, that eventually leads to thousands of records being sold? And in week when a fat old bloke is setting fire to 40 year old acetates in the name of ‘punk’, is this actually what punk’s DIY ethic looks like in 2016?
As for the track itself, it is pleasant enough, utilising Winona Ryder’s famous interview quote about being told as a teenager that she was not good looking enough to an actress, over dreamy synths and an acid arrangement that not wildly dissimilar to Laurent Garnier’s ‘Acid Effiel’. It should be in the shops this week if you want buy a small part of the future.
EDIT: Since I wrote this earlier in the week, FACT have published a click bait article proclaiming this record and others like it, which they have lazily brigaded under the title ‘lo-fi house’, signal the exhaustion of creative ideas in the underground house community. I won’t bother commenting on that article or the editorial opinion it proffers, but again the reaction has been remarkable. Some people are up in arms, what is this scene? Who are these people? What the hell is this music? It’s been described in derogatory terms from many different quarters, the production values have been called into question, as has the retro aesthetic, and of course so many people were over this sound a while ago, after the likes of Delroy Edwards and Greg Beato had popularised it.
For me, the most interesting thing about this record is not the actual music but how was produced and become popular, and maybe that is the origin of a lot of the ire? People have been out there for toiling at the acid house coal face for years, slavishly buying vintage synths and perfecting their retro-not-retro house sound, with little or no reward. Then some upstarts, who haven’t bought a single Roland drum machine, whack a 90s film star vocal over some synths and distorted drums in Abelton, cobble together a label in MS Paint, and they’re a bloody star. Who the hell do they think they are?
One DJ friend, who I greatly respect, spoke about whether this fits with his musical value system, and that might be it in a nutshell – it doesn’t fit with many people’s musical value system. But I imagine that when the Italians ditched orchestras and made disco on cheap synths, or when Jess Saunders did a cheap and clunky cover of ‘On and On’ and pressed it up, it didn’t then either. I’m not suggesting this is directly comparable, but kids with no money, lots of ideas and who don't give a shit, are always going to come and challenge our value systems. Maybe we should embrace that?
Brian Harden – Chicago to Detroit Remixes (D3 Recordings)
Most people remember Glenn Underground, Boo Williams and even Tim Harper, from back in their days on Relief Records, but there is another member of Glenn Cocker’s house collective, Strictly Jaz Unit, with a musical heritage of comparable richness – Brian Harden. Like his Jaz Unit peers, Brian also started out on Relief and went on to record on well-respected labels such as Mike Grant’s Moods and Grooves, Patrice Scott’s Sistrum, Dust Traxx spin-off Nite Life Collective, and the French Vibe Pepper sub-label, D3.
He had kind of passed me by though, I knew off him, but his music never really registered until someone suggested him as DJ for Thunder and I checked out what he’d been up to recently. It turns out he’s been making some great house music, with the stand-out track being ‘Chicago to Detroit’ on his Black EP from 2014. I guess I wasn’t the only one to like it, because it’s just reappeared in the form of a remix package on D3.
Byron the Aquarius, fresh from his outings of Sound Signature and Wild Oats, kicks things off with a more straight-up dance track than his output on Kyle and Theo’s labels. Strident drums marching over layers of spacey instrumentation, it feels almost freeform at times, sounding like it could have been recorded on the fly. Then Harden himself turns in a remix that does the job, in large part because it doesn’t stray far from the already strong original version.
The best is saved to last though, with the whole B-Side dedicated to Sistrum boss and former Thunder guest, Patrice Scott’s version. To call music sophisticated can often sound trite but that’s really what this remix is, an example of someone who has not only absolutely mastered his sound but his craft too. It isn’t obvious, it doesn’t slap you in the face, it just builds and builds, slowly, surely, intricate elements of the track easing in and out of the track, the strings, the bass, the delicate key. It’s heads down in the smoke at 5am music. It’s lost in music music. It’s when nothing but dancing matters music. It’s listening to home at 2am music. It’s multi-faceted, deep, wonderful and maybe even perfect. Perfect house music for people that believe.
Unfortunately, you need to hear the whole thing to get it and it isn’t online yet, so you’ll have to make do with these clips and the original.
Urulu – Tochigi Descent EP (South Street)
South Street looks like another new label we might have to keep an eye out for. The team behind it want to remain anonymous, to ensure that the music they put out is the focus, but between them, they have been involved in the scene for many years and this is definitely not their first foray into the world of releasing music. This means they are clear about what they want to – and South Street has one unashamed aim, to release upfront quality house music.
This will be centred on talented new and upcoming artists, such as the producer of the first release from, Urulu. An artist whose reputation has grown steadily, thanks to releases on labels such as Andy Hart’s Voyage Recordings, Dirt Crew Records, Let’s Play, and his work under the Kepler Sound District alias, he’s proven to be a good choice to start the label with, turning in solid four track EP.
The stand-outs for me are ‘Train to Nagoya’, with its afro-disco percussion and catchy pianos, and the harder hitting tech of ‘Koji Ma Oshi’, that has a little bit of Carl Craig, well maybe Carl Craig 20 years ago, about it.
Forthcoming releases on the label are coming from Yaki Incipient, a new alias from prominent Dutch house and techno artist, and from Flabaire, the brains behind French label, D.KO Records. The guys tell me they will also be using their experience to reissue some forgotten house gems from the 90’s, so quite a lot to get excited about.
Repress of the Week: Various Artists – Let’s Pet Puppies Special Ediction Vol.1 (Let’s Pet Puppies)
There really aren’t many old school Chicago house tracks I want anymore. That jackin’ sounds feels a bit played out these days, I have most of the key records, the ones I really love, and a lot of the other stuff is a bit samey. The records that aren’t, the ones that still stand out after all this time and I that I haven’t managed to pick up, are on the whole, prohibitively expensive.
One producer whose output invariably falls into this latter category, brilliant, rare and pricey, is Marcus Mixx and his raw weirdness. I have some original records by him, but not many. His records were produced in small volumes, few made it out of Chicago, and those did have proved to be very collectable over the years, so like most other fans who aren’t rich and/or lucky, I have relied on Let’s Pet Puppies to own his music.
I’ve featured the brilliantly and bizarrely named Chicago label in this column before, way back in edition #008, but for the uninitiated, it is a Chicago based label that sporadically puts out unreleased or little known Chicago house music, remastered from the original tapes. The most famous examples are the previously unreleased Ron Hardy mixes Marcus Mixx’s tracks ‘The Spell’ and ‘Without Make Up’, and Armando’s ‘Don’t Take It’, all of which could be described as seminal, which is amazing given they never seen the light of day until label owner, Thomos, and Johnny Fiasco, who is responsible for much of the remastering, got their hands on them.
Whilst these records are exceptional, the label has also released a number of other records that where just damned hard to find, mainly by Marcus, but also by lesser known artist, Jody Finch. This latest release brings those two together on vinyl again. It also makes one of the holy grails of Chicago house available to again , a record that was absolutely at the top of the small list of Chicago house I still desperately want – Marcus Mixx’s ‘Sweet Nectar’.
Originally released on Trax on off-shoot, Saber Records, in 1991 on an EP credited to Marcus and fellow producers Gitano Camero and Victor Blood, it is one of the best examples of Marcus’s sound, which can be almost eerie at times, and a record one would expect to pay about £100 for. Another Marcus rarity features on this double pack too, ‘I’m House’ from the second Missing Dog album, which takes up a notch or two in terms of rarity an expense, as you would need to drop £300 plus to secure a copy, despite not reaching the heights of ‘Sweet Nectar’ muscially. Jodie Finch’s contribution to the package is the slightly disappointing ‘Fat Skinny Short Tall’, a humorous Chi-Town sex chat track that will surely wear thin after a few of plays.
Closing the package out though, is the excellent acid mix of ‘I Got To Make It’ but Rio D, which was the only release on Gherkin sub-label Rio Records back in 1989. It’s a record I personally hold dear but it wasn't particularly sought after for years. I turned a copy up in my local record shop a few years back, attracted by the Gherkin connection, and immediately fell in love with the acid mix, which isn’t surprising because it’s a brilliant example of that sound. I remembering including on a mix I did for the now defunct London party, To The Bone, and around that time finding another, sealed, copy for a fiver and leaving it because it had no resale value. You should now expect to pay in the region of £40-50 for it, and that my friends, is the wonder of Discogs – a record that was almost unknown when it came out, has remained unknown and sat in bargain bins for more than 20 years, suddenly going from pretty much zero to fifty in a few short years.
The good news is, you don’t have to pay £500 to own these records anymore, you can just buy this double pack, safe in the knowledge that one of the people behind it believe in the music as much as you do.
Coming Up Next Time
In a deviation from the usual guff, next time is going to be all about my favourite DJ in the history of ever, Tony Humphries, ahead of the Thunder room 2 take over at Tony’s XOYO party on Saturday 17th December.
If you can’t wait that long, check Sound of Thunder’s facebook page >>here<<