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Various – Workshop 15 review

The beauty of a label like Workshop is that, despite a rough sound palette defined by its most prominent artists, the A&Ring reaches out to lesser known names without any danger of the quality dipping. What started with a minimum of fuss in 2006 has since grown to become one of the most lauded house labels in recent years, scoring fans across the board down to a staunch leftfield approach that seeks to explore hidden depths in deep house.

A scan of the producers involved in the fifteenth release will likely ring very few bells, but instead of inspiring apathy, an unfamiliar name instead piques interest at where this hitherto unknown artist may have sprung from to be deemed worthy for a spot on such a revered imprint. First up is 808 Mate, whose gentle jam gets into its groove with a minimum of delay, rocking the kind of bouncy electro drum patterns that call to mind early Carl Craig, before a simple two chord pattern takes hold. There’s very little complexity to the track, working the same refrain throughout, melancholic in its tone but still sprightly and funky.

Next up Marcellis brings a more stoutly unique game to the table, and yet sounds like the most “Workshop” song on the EP. With a croaky vocal bringing a bluesy hue to the loops of guitar strum, Marcellis comes on like a singer-songwriter applying his art to the principles of dance music. However the shapeless synths rule the day here, wrapping their tendrils around all other elements in the track and pulling them down into a fuzzed out ambience. Somewhere in the murk lie quiet ripples of percussion, but they’re subdued by the moodiness of the track.

To ensure there’s a vibe for the dancefloor as well, Schweiz Rec steps up on a forthright house tip with light key stabs offset by a New York No Wave bassline that would get Sal P grinning. There’s an understated quality at work, as you might well expect, that allows the tune to roll along in the same hook with just minor tweaks and adjustments along the way in that hypnagogic way that suits long, meandering DJ sets. Keeping the trend of diversity up for the final bout, Frak pulls out all the stops for an otherworldly jam of roughest analogue house. Bear in mind this is rough in the production sense of the word, as the lead synth buckles under a gloriously handled mask of distortion while the budget beat tries its best to stand up to it. It’s a sun-kissed atmosphere that comes spinning off the excess noise generated by such intentional messiness, and once again the idea is a marvellously simple once.

There’s never any sense of over-egging the point with Workshop tracks, and these four cuts only serve to solidify this idea as they find their unique furrow and ride it out comfortably for the duration. Out of all the tunes Flak provides the most diversion by getting nasty with the variations towards the end of the track, but without altering the course drastically. Once again it’s an imperious demonstration of simplicity and originality ruling the day.

Oli Warwick


1. 808 Mate – A1
2. Marcellis – A2
3. Schweiz Rec – B1
4. Frak – B2