Sunken Foal is one of the long-standing members of Ireland’s progressive electronic music scene. This Saturday he brings his new live audio-visual extravaganza to the Twisted Pepper for a very special show in association with our favourite record shop, Elastic Witch. The show will be the first live outing for much of the music found on his newest opus, the free-to-download Friday Syndrome Vol. 1. To celebrate this momentous occasion, the man behind the moniker gives us an insight into the sounds of 90s electronica that have made a lasting impression on his mind. You can check out Friday Syndrome over at http://www.countersunk.org/ while Bodytonic have all the live details.
Most musical genres can be identified by a common thread in their rhythmic structure, tempo, instrumentation, harmonic make-up, melodic style, mood, lyrics etc. The electronica, IDM, Braindance or whatever you want to call that emerged in the 1990s seemed to be categorised by an absence of a continuity in these elements. What was pretty consistent was the focus on the mechanical rather than the human. To me it seemed like the electro, techno, house, jungle, etc of the late 80s and early 90s was spreading outside of the inner cities and becoming more experimental. No longer just club music, the home listener was seeking these electronic sounds and structures. The more “ambient” side of things first came along out of the “chill out” rooms of the clubs but as the producers started to get to grips with their equipment, a freedom to go anywhere with composition and production emerged.
You couldn’t buy ready made Glitch IDM sound libraries or learn how to DJ in ten easy steps for €500 in 1995. You had to acquire some equipment and nut it out for yourself. I think that’s a big reason for the rapid invention, rejection of clichés and sincere experimentation which seems to have stagnated a little of late in electronic music. Here’s a mixed bag of the records that I really liked during this period.
AFX – Everyday
Why not start with the daddy. Richard D James had been tearing the techno scene up with wet, heavily distorted, subversive, belting tracks while at the same time massaging the wilted brains of the aprés-clubbers with his ambient works. I think his 1995 “Hangable Auto Bulb” EP is a real milestone in the sound that was to become known as “Electronica”. Intricate, frantic, latticed, metallic percussion weaving through a playful, perfectly resolving synth melody. An incongruous funny English lady sample in there too. I like the “wouldn’t it be funny to put that in there” attitude rather than a “I’m not feeling the grove there, it just doesn’t seem right man” attitude.
Slag Boom Van Loon – Broccoli
Dutch techno pioneer Speedy J and Planet-Mu founder Mike Paradinas collaborated in 1998 to create something far from what would have been expected. The level of invention on this record is pretty astounding. Gravelly percussive timbres, analogue squelches, dissonant bells, hellish fuzz loops and playful ditties. I haven’t heard anything too similar since. Always wished they’d made part II.
Beaumont Hannant – Woven Textures
I heard of Beaumont Hannant (like at lot of this stuff) through Warp records’ “Artificial Intelligence” series. These were records compiled for the home listener with lots of sci-fi sounds and downbeat rhythms. I spent many nights smoking cannabis with men in hooded jerseys watching the accompanying long-form 3D animation films instead of trying to score women in nightclubs. This stuff has dated pretty bad but I like hearing how these producers pushed their equipment to come up with whatever alien textures they could. Drum machines being programmed intricately rather than just leaving the bare minimum looping for 5 minutes.
The Black Dog – Chesh
Ken Downie still operates as the Black Dog whereas Andy Turner and Ed Handley left the group to concentrate on their Plaid project some 15 years ago. As a trio, they released an epic bleepy journey called Spanners in 1995 – kind of a golden year for Warp Records also releasing Aphex Twin’s “I Care Beacause You Do” and Autechre’s cliché defying “Tri Repetae”. Taken from Spanners, “Chesh” is a great example of how the producers in this period weren’t afraid of going into melodic territories not too familiar in the realms of ambient techno (more familiar to the American Minimalist composers of the 70s). If you listen carefully, you can hear Bjork plotting a big chunk of her future career.
Carl Craig – They Were
The first time I read the term “electronica” was in a review of Craig’s “Landcruising”. Part of the so called “second wave” of Detroit techno producers, Craig along with the likes of Kenny Larkin used a similar setup in the studio to their forefathers but started to push the rhythms away from the straight techno groove and incorporated more of a jazz mindset. I love how you are very aware of the machines at play rather than the human controlling it is his music at this period. Your mind isn’t focused on what kind of jacket Craig may have been wearing in the studio at the time but more on the abstract robotic movements being described.
Gescom – Viral Rival (AE Mix)
Lots of people were doing remixes of re-edits reinterpreted by the re-imagining of the….. at this time and Autechre were no exception. Gescom is basically to the same two fellows as Autechre plus or minus an extra member here and there. This came out on the Skam record label run by their buddies in Manchester. Aliased sub quality glitches, chorus simulated pads and a knife-slash tripped techno beat all conspire to form a surprisingly warm and soulful (soulful?) bed for some novel sampled saxophone (I think its a sax?). Matching this kind of expert production skill with a real ear for stacking and breaking down the layers in the right place makes this one of my faves. Autechre will always be known for their ability to construct wild rhythms out of a bespoke sonic landscape, but to me their melodic sensibility and feel for song form is just as important.