Today we reach the halfway point in our run-down of the 100 best singles and tracks of 2013. Included from 50 downwards is some rare Kode 9 material, the mysterious Aquarian Foundation, the elusive Breaker 1 2, some wolf-loving Berliners and quite a few Frenchmen.
Making your debut on a label as iconic as Theo Parrish’s Sound Signature tends to ensure people sit up and take notice. It happened with Marcellus Pittman back in 1999, it happened with Andrew Ashong’s hugely popular Flowers last year, and the latest to benefit from such an illustrious debut was Detroit selector Jay Daniel. Issued back in September, the Scorpio Rising EP demonstrated Daniel was capable of producing the sort of scuffed, raw house associated with his fellow Fundamentals resident Kyle Hall with a dash of underlying warmth you’d hear on a FXHE release. This auspicious debut hints that Daniel has plenty more to offer and complements his growing reputation among the new generation of Detroit talents.
Bells From The Deep End
Emerging on Optimo Music back in January, the Golden Teacher troupe was described as “Dinosaur L jamming with Bobby O, K Alexi Shelby, Liaisons Dangereuses and Imagination, with some voodoo drummers and Sly & Robbie”. Both Bells From The Deep End and the subsequent Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night EP demonstrates such comparisons were entirely worthy. Bridging the gap between noise punk and classicist house, Golden Teacher draw from a pool of local Glaswegian musical talent to make some of the most riotous, sweat-inducing dance music we heard this year. It was hard to choose between the two aforementioned EPs for Optimo Music for this list, but we decided to go with Golden Teacher’s debut as it provided the best kind of early year culture shock. Terms such as ‘straight to tape’ or ‘no-overdubs’ have been thrown around with abandon this year, yet capturing the spontaneous seems integral to what Golden Teacher do and the results ensure you can’t possibly question their authenticity.
Kowton has put his name to so much quality in 2013, we had almost forgotten about the epic TFB issued on emergent All Caps back in April. Kowton’s addition to the Glasgow label made perfect sense; his music combines elements of the styles that had made up All Caps’ first two releases in Alex Coulton’s deeply swung techno and the sparse, threadbare grime of Stacks Riddim by Helix. An apparent ode to grime group Ruff Sqwad, the unrelenting “TFB” was vintage Kowton, with the familiar elements of his productions on Livity Sound and Pale Fire very much present here but executed in a manner that shows the now London-based Bristolian is a true master of his trade. It should also be remembered that this record featured a well chosen remix from Karenn, Blawan and Pariah’s hardware-only project which did a fine job of expanding on the scuffed qualities of Kowton’s original and transforming “TFB” into an industrial juggernaut.
D’Marc Cantu is quietly becoming one of underground house and techno’s most widely loved producers, and it should come as little surprise that he makes two appearances on this list. His Alternate Frequency EP for Creme Organization may have been less sprawling than his Fallen LP for the label in 2011, but it provided some of his most enjoyable moments. As well as his trademark forays into deep Jakbeat house and techno, there were some moves into otherworldly 140bpm electro which rivalled anything in the footwork world for polyrhythmic mania. The highlight? “Size & Shape”, a track which balanced hands in the air house stabs with a subdued sense of melancholy that was throwback and sci-fi in equal measure.
Last year saw Sherard ‘DJ Stingray’ Ingram and Gerald Donald solidify the working relationship first established when the former was tour DJ for Drexciya, collaborating under the NRSB-11 guise on a self-titled 12” for the WéMè label. The pair continued to work together as NRSB-11 in 2013, dropping the Commodified LP for the aforementioned Belgian label, as well as making their own distinctive marks on the year in a separate capacity. Donald’s return with some new Dopplereffekt material for Berlin label Leisure System grabbed the most headlines, yet it was Ingram’s latest slab for the William Burroughs-referencing [Naked Lunch] that really caught our attention. Adopting the Stingray313 mantle, Ingram provided the iridescent Irish vinyl-pushers with the grey and black slappetered NKKtwo 2 10” which saw Ingram indulge further in the confrontational post-Drexciyan sound he’s made his own – and the off-centre techno arrangements of [Naked Lunch]. Meanwhile the four-four stomp of “NKKK4_2” proved that Ingram’s Stingray project isn’t solely concerned with high paced, relentless electro.
Steve Goodman’s Rinse:22 mix provided the most up to date a document of where the Hyperdub boss’s interests currently lie, with a significant amount of footwork and grime making up its 37 strong tracklist, and Xingfu Lu – his first release since 2011’s Black Sun – also showed this influence has seeped deep into his own productions. Both the title track and “Kan” demonstrated Goodman has a keen grasp on the relentless rhythmic mechanics of footwork to make these tracks work in a set, but it was their crystal clarity that really elevated them to something that could compete with the likes of genre figureheads like DJ Rashad. On first listen, there’s not a lot going on in these tracks, but with the snares that pop through the mix like barbed wire, the weird hyperreal sheen that coated everything and the imaginative smashed glass hi-hats, Goodman gave footwork a three dimensional sound that provided some of the genre’s most tactile productions.
Tab Of Acid
The Trilogy Tapes
Anyone that indulged in The Overlord, Willie Burns’ debut on The Trilogy Tapes from last year, will attest that the creative stars seem to align when the WT Records founder chooses to work with his British namesake Bankhead. That four track release featured some of the most memorable and diverse music committed to wax by Burnett under his Willie Burns alias, and was made all the more special by some of Bankhead’s best sleeve art in our opinion. Arriving on The Trilogy Tapes late into December, Tab Of Acid further strengthened this notion featuring a title track that felt like we’d taken a time machine back to a grotty basement rave in Den Haag circa 1994. Providing contrast in a way Burnett does so well, the B-side offered two tracks of a more immersive nature, with “She Left In Spring” an exercise in dubby techno as pensive as the title would suggest.
Having stumbled on to Antinote last year with that quite remarkable Iueke record, the label founded by Gwenael ‘Iueke’ Jamois and Quentin Vandewalle proved to be one of 2013’s most consistent outlets, who have really established their own particular aesthetic despite a diverse set of releases. Along with some of the finest artwork to ever grace a record, the apparently vast archive of Iueke material recorded in the late ’90s is a central cog of Antinote’s appeal. Released in late May, the Alecot 12” consisted of one sole 22 minute composition, pressed on both sides of the record. Suggesting Iueke was a progenitor to the style of techno Actress currently makes, the close-knit drums, over driven bass melodies and jangly percussive touches remained engaging throughout the lengthy arrangement and left us craving more of Iueke’s brilliance.
R Zone 5
Founded by the Global Darkness DJ collective as a socio-musical experiment, the seven releases this year on the R Zone label have proved that it’s possible to shift the focus away from namedropping and perception based on hype around individual artists and have an impact based solely on the music. Some people might argue that R Zone hadn’t completely adhered to the anonymous approach, revealing high profile artists like Tuff City Kids, Willie Burns, JD Twitch and D’Marc Cantu had agreed to contribute, but with no further identity clues their diverse set of releases have found favour with the more open minded selectors out there, from Surgeon to Cadenza’s pantomime chief Luciano. Given the standard, any of the seven could have feasibly featured on this list, but we decided to go with #5 in the series, which successfully mined ’90s UK hardcore without falling into the realm of pastiche.
Peverelist seems to be on the best form of his life right now, with collaborative efforts between himself, Kowton and Asusu all providing essential releases from the Livity Sound camp this year. The standout 12” from the label this year however was solo effort Aztec Chant, whose title track combined a tribal melody reminiscent of Skull Disco fused with a lithe and rubbery percussive swing, which carefully – and wisely – teased that full rhythmic release with shattered chunks of breakbeat. Its B-side, “Livity”, was even more striking, built around a coiled synth line that seemed to twist itself ever tighter around a battery of hi-hats before giving way to a quasi-hardcore piano riff. Simply put, Pev is peerless right now.
Elements Of Houz Music (Actress remixes)
Clone Jack For Daze
Actress and Legowelt may not come across as very compatible at a glance, but they actually have quite the shared heritage. Both of their catalogues trudge through the difficult-to-pin-down territory between experimental and dance music, and each producer appears capable of balancing their introverted and extroverted sides by managing an eclectic output while retaining a hermetic loner mystique of sorts. Still, this EP isn’t the most accessible of dancefloor burners from the usually more straightforward Jack for Daze, and folks looking for Chicago house anthems might be wise to turn to other releases from the series. But for those who like their dance music with a heavy dash of introspection, these two mixes from Actress provide interesting focal points for the philosophically minded club-goer, and in the case of the Werkdiscs artist’s second remix, show that sometimes, it’s important to take things slow.
Despite describing his A&R approach to The Quietus as ‘fucking comedy,’ the manner in which Karl O’Connor oversaw Downwards’ 20th year as a record label was peerless. Two artist albums, a compilation, and a succession of 12” singles is a fine way for any label to celebrate its 20th Anniversary, but the range of music covered by Downwards in doing so demonstrated they were more willing than ever to push the boundaries of expectation. The addition of OAKE was as representative of this as Samuel Kerridge’s signing or the arrival of an excellent debut LP from DVA Damas. The wolf-loving Berlin pair first appeared on DNS with the Offenbarung 12”, featuring three tracks that combined cinematic strings and vocals reminiscent of Coil with a pin-dropping bass-heavy dread shared with kindred spirits Demdike Stare and The Haxan Cloak.
Undoubtedly this year’s most unique debut by quite some way, Katie Gately’s self-titled EP for Public Information saw the USC School of Cinematic Arts graduate and sound designer put her vocals centre stage while sample-based textures and percussion scraped, popped and smashed around her. Although there were obvious parallels to be drawn with Holly Herndon, whose debut for RVNG Intl last year ploughed a similar sonic path, there was arguably something far more fully realised, and far more human present in Gately’s debut. However, it was that rare balance of pop nous and outlandish experimentation that made this such a breezy and optimistic listen despite its darker leanings.
As well as delivering one of this year’s finest albums, the man known as Huerco S was also responsible for some excellent 12” releases and it was hard to choose between this long-delayed debut on Future Times and the record under his Royal Crown Of Sweden guise that launched Anthony Naples’ Proibito label. Despite the latter being Paul Woolford’s favourite of the year, it was Apheleia’s Theme for Future Times that resonated most with us, brandishing a weighty title track that needed little more than a few heat-treated base elements to sweep you under its thick, foggy spell. The true gem on this record however was the final track “Cercy” where mangled drums that sounded like recycled karate chops provided Huerco S with his briskest production yet, with a procession of ascendant synth lines that lent it a rewarding sense of incandescence.
Although – as the name suggests – Opal Tapes is primarily a cassette label, it has released on the vinyl format in the past – 12”s coming from Yves De May and Shapednoise this year – but it was the reaction to Patricia’s six-track Body Issues tape of brittle acid-techno that persuaded label head Stephen Bishop to start a vinyl-dedicated offshoot, Black Opal. Revealing his plans for the label to us in an interview earlier this year, OT boss Stephen ‘Basic House’ Bishop stated Patricia’s mini-album “absolutely deserves to be on record so it’s a good place to start.” And he’s right, not only did this tape introduce the ‘scuzzy’ talents of the Brooklyn-based Patricia, but also a new wax-coated platform for more quality music, with new music from HOLOVR, Lumigraph and Yves de Mey already reportedly lined up on Black Opal.
Outside of the burgeoning grime revival and whatever the ever-reliable Hessle Audio were putting out, genuinely forward-thinking music of the bass-heavy persuasion was in short supply this year, but the Blank Mind debut of the Alan Johnson duo stood out a mile thanks to its complete disregard for any kind of genre. There were echoes of Objekt and Akkord’s sonic weapons in the Goron Sound single, mainly in the strategic deployment of bowel-loosening bass tones and the kind of slippery percussion and dub influence that Shackleton would be envious of. Given that one of the duo is Mindset artist Stickman, it’s no surprise that these tracks feel more dubstep than anything else, but there’s a quicksand-like quality to these tracks that made them unlike anything else produced in their category this year.
Massprod & Herva
Technology Fail As A Birth Control For Unnecessary Recordings
Where to even start with this one? Kontra Musik has been at the forefront of championing left of centre dance music acts like Frak and TM404, but this uniquely titled EP from Italian duo Massprod & Herva is so out there that it made everything Ulf Erikkson’s Malmo-based label has done to date seem staid and conservative. After all, even if you are twisting new sounds from vintage equipment as both Frak and Andreas Tilliander did this year for Kontra, it’s hard to compete with titles like “Mike vs Speak And Overdub As A Weapon Against Modern Laptop Wanking”. The track on the EP which takes the cake however is “Everything We Know Is Wonk” which sounds like a grittier version of Miles’ “Irreligious”.
Rosite/Fear Eats The Soul
Oliver Vereker’s pair of EPs for L.I.E.S. offered what was the label’s heaviest set of tracks to date, taking techno in a dark and twisted new direction that stood apart from the occasionally po-faced noise and industrial movements going on elsewhere. These tracks looked to acid but weren’t beholden to its legacy, combining its abrasive buzz with the brute force and relentless forward motion of early ‘90s NYC techno. Like much of the L.I.E.S. output, the lo-fi nature of Vereker’s output is part of its charm, but rarely has it felt so enjoyable to get lost in the murk. Like his disorientating video work for artists like Two Dogs In A House and Mutant Beat Dance, tracks like “Falling” and “Fear Eats The Soul” were saturated with a glowing, druggy distortion that was as enticing to get absorbed in as it was fun to dance to.
Record labels are started for all manner of reasons, and Going Good seems to have been founded to channel the keenly tuned digging skills of its two founders, Brian and Sal. With each release from Moon B, Aquarian Foundation and Anom Vitruv on Going Good, there was a wonderful sense of discovery, a feeling you had tapped into music that was being cruelly over-looked. Given the strength of these three releases, it was hard to pick out which record stood out, though Aquarian Foundation’s Silent Teaching EP taps into one of 2013’s most interesting narratives in Mood Hut. Aquarian Foundation are an integral cog of the Vancouver collective, who were quietly responsible for some of this year’s finest house records, and the Silent Teaching EP was an early sign of this. Its five tracks demonstrated the full range of Aquarian Foundation, and in ”Dream Of The Red Chamber” featured an end production of mind bending qualities.
Given Pépé Bradock’s well respected approach that’s taken in all-out jazz territory via refined deep house, nutty found sound collages and plenty more, it’s little surprise that his emergence on Acid Test resulted in one of the most memorable 12”s of 2013. Lifting Weights represented the first time Bradock had graced a label other than his own Atavisme with some original material in a decade, yet this fact was overshadowed by the manner in which the Frenchman approached the Acid Test series. Both tracks showed Bradock eminently capable of understanding the rules, yet not having to play by them. The contrast in sound and execution between the lead track with its memorably bugged out acid lead, and that of “Mujeres Nerviosas” ensured this was the most accomplished example yet of Absurd Recordings’ attempts to demonstrate the abstract possibilities in acid house, while showing that few other producers can touch Pépé Bradock.
First announced late into 2012, Terrence Dixon’s reduction label took full grip of our attentions this year acting as a dedicated outlet to his work under the Population One guise. Each record came with a title themed around reduction and featured three untitled productions, leaving you to interpret Dixon’s music on little more than the sounds that envelop your senses and the concepts of the series. Of the three records issued thus far on Reduction, it was the final one that really resonated, drawing the listener deeper into the realm of Population One. Murked out textures that sounded like Actress with more rhythmic swagger sat next to straight up Motor City star gazers and psychosis-inducing lopsided analogue excursions. Despite the green label, Random Variables tickled us pink.
Breaker 1 2
It’s far too early to proclaim Forbidden Planet a success, but the Montreal label that launched this year is heading in the right direction. It’s an extension of the radio show and club night of the same name overseen by Jurg Haller, with the latter only taking shape this past year. As a promoter, Haller clearly knows his onions, with Terekke, Young Male, Container and Bill Kouligas among his guests. Supposedly hailing from Florida, however, is Breaker 1 2, who joins a swelling cast of North American production talent to adopt a pseudonym that laughs merrily in the face of internet search engines (see also Local Artist and DJ Richard), leaving us to focus on the music. Breaker 1 2 takes the lo-fi house template on Breakin to a much weirder place, and although lead track “2” is quite straight, and the gurgle of “Estonia” unsettling, nothing quite prepares you for the roaring synth tone of “DMT”.
Beats In Space
Tornado Wallace put his bearded face to a trio of record label debuts in a resurgent year of productions, appearing as Coober Pedy University Band project on Kinfolk as well as gracing ESP Institute and Beats In Space with aplomb. The Desperate Pleasures 12″ for Tim Sweeney’s label was our favourite, showing a marked development in his production ideas and fully living up to Wallace’s own summation that the three tracks were “designed for late night wanderings through Botswanan jungles”. This was most apparent on the final track “Okavango Delta” where Afrobeat is an explicit influence amidst the field recordings and sprung synth textures, whilst the title track and “Space Tropics” were both more confident executions of the balmy midtempo productions Wallace had previously made his name on.
In Aeternam Vale
Amidst all the finely dressed retrospectives of hushed ’80s European synth music they release, Minimal Wave holds a darker card in their pack in the shape of Laurent Prot’s In Aeternam Vale. Having reissued several essential lost works from the outfit last year, most notably the proto-Sandwell sound of “Highway Dark Veins”, Veronica Vasicka’s label bookended 2013 with two 12”s of superb quality from In Aeternam Vale, with La Piscine our personal favourite. The fourteen minute synth-techno title track was yet another selection from Prot’s seemingly endless archives that could feasibly pass for a production by Function, whilst the druggy “Calling Somewhere” could best be described as proto-halfstep cold wave style. The fact these tracks are some 22 years old should leave anyone that hears them lost for words.
Shawn O’Sullivan /Civil Duty
Anthony Parasole’s label The Corner is slowly turning into not just one of the most exciting techno labels in the USA, but one of the most exciting techno labels in the world, shaking things up with its no-nonsense approach to the genre and impeccable curation from the producer and DJ. Its best record came from two of the USA’s most exciting breakthrough artists of the year in the form of Led Er Est and Further Reductions member Shawn O’Sullivan, and long-time Nation affiliate Beau Wanzer. The Security EP belongs mainly to O’Sullivan, with a title track that pulses with the unrestrained energy of a classic Adam X track, and whose “Crisis” swaggers with a menacing leer that puts you in mind of the kind of martial law situation the title implies. However, it was the duo’s Civil Duty team up “Courier” that proved the standout track, driven by raw analogue synths that ripple with an unfettered amount of grit.