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Sir Stephen – By Design review

This year has seen a tidal wave of analogue-informed revivalist jack tracks. It’s near-on impossible to head to a house night and not hear a dusty Trax record or at the very least a modern re-interpretation of one. There’s no denying the seductive qualities of that raw, hard-hitting production style, and this new wave of the old-skool has given us some truly interesting music, as well as some lazily re-hashed dross.

This latest entry on the Not Not Fun sub-label 100% Silk sees Sir Stephen (also of ‘Nintendo punk’ band Maniac Mansion) making his own claim on the early blueprint of house music with five pumping cuts. Every nuance and detail of the ‘88-’91 era is immaculately replicated, albeit with the beefier production values of the present day. This represents something of a departure from the norm for the boutique imprint run by husband and wife duo Amanda and Britt Brown – a shift perhaps signified by the new artwork template that adorns this 12″ and the concurrent release from Ital. Previous releases from the likes of Gillette, The Deeep and Maria Minerva have been informed by classic house and techno but dipped in fuzzy, lo-fi atmospherics, marking this as the most obvious release so far on 100% Silk, in that it wears its influences proudly – and loudly – on its sleeve.

Indeed it’s hard to listen to “Move That Body” and not hear Inner City chart-topper “Good Life” stomping away in a slightly different key, while “Milk N Honey” captures the DX7 organ notes of Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman”, and “Public Style” could easily be a love letter to Robyn S. There’s even a brief stint in classic electro on “NY Boogie”, executed with all but the “break!” intact. At some point you have to step back and say that these tracks, whilst familiar, still manage to kick it. If imitation is a form of flattery then Sir Stephen is clearly in thrall to the good old days, and he’s certainly not bastardised the sound in any way.

Oli Warwick