Friday, October 27, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Sci Fi Hi Fi Volume 3' mixed by Alex Smoke

Following instalments from techno pontiffs Ewan Pearson and Luciano, the latest volume of Soma Records' Sci Fi Hi Fi mix CD series comes from young Glasgow producer Alex Smoke. Smoke - not to be confused with Madrid's Alex Under - has already made a name for himself with 2005's Incommunicado and this year's Paradolia, and has remixed Mylo and the Junior Boys. Oh dear, this is press release stuff – can you tell my heart's not in it?

I've tried to like minimal techno, I really have, but it's just not happening. I love Ellen Allien and Booka Shade, but only because they turn techno into a kind of cyborg pop music. I love Monolake and Sleeparchive, but only because they turn techno into a kind of lunar bass architecture. But all this dessicated, clicky stuff that's like pressing your ear to an alarm clock powered by dead beatles – what's the point? I don't even get Ricardo Villalobos, who I'm almost legally obliged to love – Dexter and Easy Lee, sure, but the rest...

I'm still trying, though, which is one reason why I'm reviewing this CD. The other reason is that the second track here is Burial's Gutted, and it's pretty exciting to see yet another doctrinaire techno DJ repping dubstep – see also Cassy, who put Shackleton on her recent Panorama Bar, and of course Villalobos himself, who's been known to drop Skream's Midnight Request Line and Mala's Left Leg Out. Sadly, I suppose because it's too fast to mix properly with techno, Smoke can't do much with it: the track looms from the ambient shadows of Porn Sword Tobacco's Najat Library Card and then vanishes in a cloud of echo, like when Batman escapes the police by throwing down one of those smoke pellets.

From then on the mix treads a clear enough path: from sleepy dub to fidgeting glitch. The former comes from Basic Channel, Basic Channel's side project Rhythm & Sound, and Juan Atkins' Model 500. It's beautiful stuff, of course: languorous yet muscular, swimming against a moonlit tide of echo and crackle, plunging ever deeper. But by the end of the mix, we've moved on to the ticks and gasps and squirts and rattles of Alex Smoke himself, as sterile and microscopic and precise as an Intel laboratory. In between, we get Claro Intellecto's angelic Peace of Mind, eight minutes of Stockholm producer Aril Brikha's contemplative Aqua, and lots more. Even if you're a total techno cultist, I don't think any of this is exactly going to turn your brain inside out, but it's still a thoughtful, varied piece of work. It hasn't made me love minimal techno; but it's made me want to keep trying.


Out 30/10 on Soma

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Big On Road

Today I've been enjoying Rude Interlude - tracklist here, download here - a dynamite mix of dark garage, grime, and proto-dubstep, with added pirate radio chat. Its creator Paul also did Autonomic Computing, which is still probably the best introduction to dubstep there is.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Nervously counting fingers and toes

Even the most aristocratic bloodline can't sustain three generations of inbreeding. First we had Interpol, ripping off Joy Division - and they did a great job but it should have stopped there - but then we had The Editors, ripping off Interpol, and now we have Omerta, ripping off The Editors (but dressing like Interpol). Has there ever been a more wretchedly redundant band?

Life before dubstep

Very educational list over at Stylus of the top ten drum'n'bass basslines ever, with audio clips.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'The Dead Sea' by Xela

As soon as I heard The Dead Sea, I knew I was in trouble. The third album by Manchester producer (and Type Records founder) John Twells, it's a world away from the soft, glitch-splintered electronica of For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights or the secretive robot shoegaze of Tangled Wool. The Dead Sea is apparently about 'a doomed ocean voyage that meets an abrupt end amongst a swarm of malignant zombies', and it draws on all kinds of influences that I know nothing about, a small selection of which you can hear on Xela's excellent podcasts. Basically, I really like this album, but I don't have a clue what to say about it. If I were getting paid then naturally I'd just bluff my way through, but the wonderful thing about blogs is that there's no need to prop up the illusion of journalistic authority - so I thought the sensible thing to do would simply be to let Xela speak for himself.

How would you describe The Dead Sea?
A waterlogged horror-concept album with psychedelic and progressive rock leanings. On red vinyl.

What were you listening to while you were making it?
Now that's impossible to answer because I just listen to so much, from indie pop to black metal.. conscious influences on the sound were all the new psych folk stuff, italian film soundtracks, power electronics, noisy metal and of course prog rock. But yeah, I\'m constantly consuming music so I have to pick and choose what I plonk into my compositions when I want to make something coherent.

Each of your albums has sounded utterly unlike the previous one. Is it important to keep changing? Any idea where you're going next?
Yeah I think it's of the utmost importance to keep on changing... My mind and my reactions to music keeps on changing so I think my music should reflect that, it would be dishonest not to. I mean, my first record For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights was a reaction to the electronic music that I had just begun to hear after having played with indie/punk bands fora few years and Tangled Wool was an attempt at writing love songs. The Dead Sea was something I had in mind for a long time, but the style was a direct response to the music that excited me as I was writing it. I don't want to get into a position where I feel like I'm needlessly repeating myself as I don't respect that from other artists; I like to hear someone's mind at work, not someone coasting for the sake of it.

Do you think electronica, in the 90s sense, is a sinking ship?
It's already sunk! Hopefully someone will come along in the near future, James Cameron-style ,and raise it from it's watery doom. I'd love to see someone inject some new life into electronic music soon, but at the moment people seem to be giving it some space, and that's understandable: with the internet and the explosion of 'bedroom musicians', it was bound to become saturated very quickly.

Type Records releases thoughtful, experimental music with, potentially, quite a small audience, yet you seem to have got a big response (i.e. not just in The Wire!) What's your secret?
I don't know, all I can say is that I love the music I put out and I'm very tough on quality control. All the music I release is music I'd buy, and I think that's an important thing for me - I have to be really proud of a release, and being so involved with music on many levels it takes something special to get through to me. Hopefully people can see that.

Released on Type Records on 23/10

The All-New Dummy Monthly

Yesterday, after months of planning, the latest top secret Dummy project (codename: Flighty Horse) was finally revealed to the world. The Dummy Monthly is our new email newsletter, created to keep your soul alive in the long, barren periods between issues of the print magazine. Unlike most such newsletters, it's not just a few kilobytes of hype and nonsense - we give you interviews, album reviews, single reviews, competitions, listings, top tens, and more. And for free! You'll be able to view it on the web every month, but if you'd like it to leap straight into your inbox, click here to subscribe. Tell your friends!

Jamie T, The Scala, London, 19.10.06

Jamie T takes to the stage tonight with his third single, If You Got The Money, at Number 11 in the mid-week charts. He’s on the brink of something big and everyone in the capacity crowd knows it. If his band are a bit ragged and the backing vocals are set permanently to ‘shout’, well, that’s part of the DIY appeal. Energy levels simmer, then when he plays If You Got The Money the audience explode. It’s nothing compared to the reaction Salvador and Sheila get. “Drunk, she stumbles down by a river/Screams, calling ‘London’…’ he sings, at which point everyone screams at the top of their voices. In the encore, he plays a cover of Billy Bragg’s New England (the B-side to 'If You Got The Money'). It’s a great choice. If Bragg was 20-years old, he’d probably sound a lot like Jamie, who subtle acknowledges his roots in the process. Shame, then, that it’s so lacklustre. But the night ends on a high with the full throttle jig Brand New Bass Guitar. Wouldn’t it be great if he went Top Ten…

Jamie T is one the cover of issue three of Dummy, out now.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Skream!' by Skream

'Every time I think about an album I think of reasons not to do one,' said Mala from Digital Mystizk in a recent interview in The Wire. And I'm afraid Skream may just have given him one reason more.

Of course, Skream had a near-impossible task. Unlike Burial and Kode 9, he couldn't give us something shadowy and introspective – Skream's followers want something that hits as hard in the club as it does on headphones. Few dance producers know how to sweep that dichotomy aside, and, in 2006, most of those that do are making techno (see Ellen Allien or Claro Intellecto or Monolake).

So Skream keeps it varied. We get DMZ anthems ('Midnight Request Line', 'Rutten'), vocal tracks ('Check-It' with Warrior Queen, 'Tapped' with JME), cheery head-nodders ('Dutch Flowerz', 'Summer Dreams'), club weapons ('Colourful', 'Stagger'), and filler ('Kut-Off', 'Auto-Dub'). What we don't get is classics like 'Lightning' and 'Deep Concentration', presumably because Tempa didn't want to repeat anything that's already been in either of Skreamizm double-vinyl packs. That's a shame, because, for better or worse, a lot of people buying Skream! will have heard about it from the Observer or the Telegraph, and they need to be hearing dubstep at its very strongest if they're going to stay interested.

Still, 'Midnight Request Line' sounds as extraterrestrial as ever. 'Rutten', the one with the leaping flute and simmering bass, is here in a stripped down version (hence the name change from 'Rottan') – but Skream almost ruins a perfect track with some fugly MIDI brass that you'll also hear on 'Dutch Flowerz'.

'Check-It' switches between wonky reggae and brutal dancehall, with Warrior Queen both singing out of tune and rapping out of time but still somehow holding her own, and I've never heard anything like it. 'Tapped' is less of a success. The instrumental version is another classic - Mala even stuck the 'Anti-War Dub' acapella over it at the last DMZ – but JME comes up with some very lazy bars here, repeating the hook ('Sometimes I think back/ Some days I felt trapped/ My line's been tapped') until it's worn right through.

The really contentious tracks on this album are going to be 'Dutch Flowerz' and 'Summer Dreams'. 'Dutch Flowerz', with its double-time skank, fairy-lights synth, and sunny guitar, has been doing the rounds for a while, and it's not a bad way to break up a DJ set of claustrophobic bassbin beasts, but in an album context it utterly fails to justify its existence. And 'Summer Dreams', eight minutes of flaccid saxophone over a rudimentary garage shuffle, is even worse. (Can it really be that Skream, anticipating the inevitable mockery, has deliberately started this track with the sound of chatter in a bourgeois wine bar?) Some people see this as a tribute to two-step, but real two-step was never as bloodless as this.

The remaining tracks are B-side material, really, although 'Stagger' packs a punch. So Skream! doesn't add up to much – Olli Jones has played the album game and lost, like dozens before him. Except I wouldn't be saying that if Skream were an unknown, rather than the purported ambassador of dubstep and saviour of British dance music – in that case, I'd be praising this LP – meaning that, Skream, at 21, is already an unfortunate victim of his own hype. A strange thing to be in dubstep, which is meant to be the genre that hype forgot.


Released 27/10 on Tempa

Good Shoes, Barfly, London, 15.10.06

“So, which one of you paid £400 for a ticket on Ebay?” asks Good Shoes frontman Rhys Jones after the first song. His band are on steep upward curve at the moment, but it’s not them that someone has parted with their holiday fund to see. Tonight, they are supporting Razorlight at the 200-capacity Barfly in Camden. If they aren’t the main attraction, they are fabulous bonus nonetheless. The whipcrack interchange of guitars on 'Never Meant To Hurt', 'We Are Not The Same' and 'All In My Head' is spine-tingling, Jones is developing into a commanding singer and the fact that many of the songs are under three-minutes gives them a thrilling energy. The album’s due next year. I for one can’t wait. Oh, Razorlight were OK,. too.

Friday, October 13, 2006

You Can't Murray Love

There was lots going on for this year's Peel Day, which has cheered those of us who still hold out hope that it may one day become an official public holiday. But what was missing was any discussion of the radio station that John Peel helped to create. Which is odd, since a glance at the Radio 1 schedule is enough to convince you that some kind of nightmarish prank has been played. The 10pm-midnight slot, which was occupied by Peel until 2003, is now being defiled by - of all people – Mr. Colin Murray.

As you can see from his playlists, Murray has planted himself so firmly in the middle of the road that frightened hedgehogs could use him as a traffic island. One of the last sessions the ever-prescient Peel booked was with the Digital Mystikz, who made dubstep what it is today. With Murray, we are lucky to get anyone as searingly avant-garde as the Killers. I truly despair.

And as a result of Murray's move, fantastic shows like Mary Anne Hobbs' get shunted back to even more unsociable hours. This is the Radio 1 equivalent of replacing In Our Time with a live phone-in about Celebrity Strictly Come Dancing. Good night, public service broadcasting. The BBC's defence is that, with the online 'listen again' function, time slots become irrelevant. But then the potential audience for specialist programmes is reduced to the few people who already know about them (and are loyal enough to tolerate the infuriatingly erratic Realplayer stream). There is no longer any possibility of someone turning on Radio 1 at random in the car late at night, hearing some Burial, and having a minor epiphany.

Yes, Murray's show will be less 'inaccessible' - but 'inaccessible' is just another word for 'difficult' - and 'difficult' is often just another word for 'new and unexpected and potentially important'. Moves like this will please the public, but what the public wants in the short term is not always what the public needs in the long term. The mainstream has always fed greedily off the fringe. Without Sonic Youth, there would be no 'Since You Been Gone'. Without old-school jungle, there would be 'Promiscuous'. Without Nick Drake, there would be no 'Nine Million Bicycles'. (Perhaps I shouldn't have brought that one up.) Take away the fringe, and the mainstream will eventually starve.

I am indeed one of the 'indie mafia,' as Colin Murray put it in his recent self-serving Guardian article, and I make no apology. Nor did Saint Peel himself.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Preview: Dummy Sunday, The Lock Tavern, London, 15.10.2006

This Sunday at the Lock Tavern Dummy magazine have assembled the squad of rising London DJs who have thrown away the rulebook as featured in our Pick A Record, Any Record feature. Come on down for some roasts, records and rave. It’s free!


Imported Euro-duo DJ Tron and DJ Johan hail from France and Sweden respectively. Masters of the mixtape, Radioclit like to “push bass culture hard”. That means crunk and splicing together dirty south hip hop and grime with ’80s electro and Brazilian baile funk. “It’s about ghetto music and pop music,” they say.
Favourite track: Premier Gaou - Magic System

Young Turks

The chaps behind London’s premier genre-bending night, Troubled Minds @ 333, Young Turks are major players in the new DJ movement. Style-wise, the trio of Caius Pawson, Bob Foster and Stuart Hammond keep their fingers pressed tightly on the pulse of new wave guitar music, but are unafraid to throw a few curve balls in the mix.
Favourite track: Aneurysm - Nirvana

Team Mega Mix

Identifiable by their white uniforms, Team Mega Mix's main fixation is retro ’80s soul, but they are also rather partial to a bit of grime and garage. The two Teds’ (Lovett and Pearce) atypically tight mixes and a love of the classics has helped make them one of London’s hottest DJ duos.
Favourite track: Whip It - Devo

People Are Germs

Claire Bartelomeo and Juliette Hughes People Are Germs first made waves with a regular slot at Shoreditch hipster hangout The Old Blue Last, where they attracted a huge array of guest DJs, including Bloc Party and Babyshambles. Now regulars at most of the parties on this list, the girls swing from Fleetwood Mac to MSTKRFT.
Favourite track: Something Good - Utah Saints

Fisherprice Soundsystem

Fisherprice Soundsystem are kooks straight out of the leftfield. Comprised of Frederick Blood-Royale, formerly of chaotic indie kids Les Incompetents, and fellow jockey Henry The Eighth, they have a passion for happy hardcore and aren’t afraid to crank bpms up to 300. Bootleg mash-ups feature prominently, too.
Favourite track: Hot In Herre (8-bit Nintendo Remix) - Nelly

Real Gold

Before forming Real Gold, Deano Jo used to be in the noise-loving Teens Of Thailand. Now Deano DJs alongside Ronojoy Dam, Jack Parmesan, Alexis E and Louis Enchante, all who share a love of hardcore punk, especially when sandwiched between grime and Jamaican dancehall and ragga.
Favourite track: One By One - Immortal


When not organising his Extra Special one-off events with associate Nasty Mcquaid – guests thus far have included Diplo and Arctic Monkeys – elPlate is busy mixing electro, rave and classic house with dancehall and garage. His Myspace boast that, “We run this shit,” is only a slight exaggeration.
Favourite track: Don’t Go - Awesome 3


Alex Silverlink is a producer and DJ affiliated with both the oddball electro-noise label Adadat and the rave revival. His music combines vintage analogue synths and kinetic new wave electro, while his sets reflect his love of both old and new dance music. “There’s no ‘k’ in rave,” he says.
Favourite track: I Like To Move It - Reel 2 Reel

15th October, 4pm til 11pm
The Lock Tavern, 35 Chalk Farm Rd, NW1

Friday, October 06, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Memories of the Future' by Kode 9 & the Spaceape

Kode 9 is dubstep's philosopher laureate. His aphorisms range from the revelatory:
'Most of the people that produce and DJ dubstep were into jungle and it’s almost like we know jungle so well now that we don’t need to hear the fast breakbeats; it’s in our bodies already. What was exciting about jungle has almost been internalized into our systems, so we don’t need so many elements any more to get the same vibe.'
to the incomprehensible:
'As opposed to a bass fundamentalism, I’m interested in vibration as micro-rhythm or micro-relation, so I use this as a way of accessing the rhythmic continuum which cuts across the urban frequency spectrum, constructing a cultural tectonics. I am interested in a vibrational rhythmanalysis of the control city.'
But we must indulge intellectuals, even when – especially when – they seem in danger of disappearing up their own rhythmic continuum: we live in a time where a lyric like 'I bet that you look good on the dancefloor/ Dancing to electro-pop like a robot from 1984' apparently makes Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys some sort of latter-day Petrarch. Twenty-first century music could do with some brains. Perhaps on Kode 9's next LP we will hear him quietly pontificating about Deleuze on one stereo channel, like on Gang of Four's 'Anthrax', but on Memories of the Future he lets the Spaceape do the talking.

So which future is this? To me, it's straight out of the Orwell novel to which Alex Turner was presumably not trying to allude in the above couplet. Kode 9 gives us a kind of totalitarian dub, with Spaceape as a dictator reading out his weekly address on state radio. 'We have to take serious measures' warns Spaceape on the first track, and he's not joking. There's a Soviet severity to these beats – the sound design doesn't have futuristic sheen of, say, Skream's, which isn't to say that Kode 9 is a bad producer, just that his aesthetic is not quite what we're used to. Lots of these tracks are made of not much more than an accordion synth, a bass hum, and a brittle snare. They're cheap and bare and vast at the same time, just like the brutalist concrete tower which would house the Ministry of Justice in the dystopia over which Spaceape rules. When I hear the sluggish horns on 'Nine Samurai', I think of tanks parading through the streets as a show of strength. There's a two-step shuffle on 'Curious', but it takes all the sex out of garage (perhaps by means of mandatory hormone injections) and puts it to work on the factory floor.

On Memories of the Future, Spaceape is a psychiatrist, a prophet, a confessor, a lunatic, and a soldier as well as a despot. I have no idea whether he's the next Linton Kwesi Johnson, or whatever else people have been saying, but he couldn't be a better match for Kode 9's dark cityscapes. His lyrics creep into your head like the 'alien virus' he keeps telling us about. And of course there's that voice, that sounds like it's slowed down even when it's not.

When Kode 9 uses a pure sine for his basslines instead of the surging square wave wobble preferred by most dubstep producers, I wonder whether it's a deliberate reaction to the fact that most music these days is heard out of iPod headphones or laptop speakers – 50% of this album is simply invisible to technology like that. Listen to it on a proper rig, or don't listen to it at all. (Incidentally, I once put post-apocalyptic Prince cover 'Sine of the Dub' on a mix CD as a birthday present. Of course, the birthday girl stuck the CD on, and when it got to that track, I saw the bass reduce the party from tipsy burble to nauseous catatonia in two minutes. Maybe Kode 9 could put that in a footnote in his forthcoming text on the history of sonic warfare.)

Powerful as Memories of the Future is, it never quite has the emotional heft of Burial's LP, which also came out on Kode 9's Hyperdub label. Where Burial gave us yearning, Kode 9 gives us dread; where Burial gave us London, Kode 9 gives us a faraway place; where Burial gave us something personal, Kode 9 gives us, somehow, something political. It's strange, in a way, to talk about 'relating' to instrumental music, but I could relate to Burial in a way that I can't to Memories. Like all the best science fiction, however, Memories is of course really meant to be about the present day – so maybe I just need to be less literal, let the associations flow. Here we find ourselves, as Spaceape says, 'Locked in, and twisted out of all recognition.'


Released 16/10 on Hyperdub