He may not be the most famous Marcel associated with Berlin’s Berghain club, or the Ostgut
Ton label, but Marcel Fengler is undoubtedly one of the brightest new producers to have
recently emerged from that scene. Through a short but sweet stack of 12″s, remixes and EPs
under his belt, Fengler has honed in on a sound all his own, one that fuses the pounding
familiarity of classic tech-house with free-spirited melodies and distinct sound sources, creating
tracks that are easily recognizable as his own (and just as dancefloor-ready). For a style so
repetitious and pounding, Fengler somehow infuses his passionate humanity in every track,
whether it comes from a snipped vocal, a thunderous rhythm or a shimmery chord. It’s really
great stuff, and in talking with the gracious and friendly man himself, it’s hard to not get excited
for all that he has in store for the future. I think we should all take a lesson from him and make
the time to play djembes during a colorful sunset.
How did you first find out about the Berghain scene and get involved with it?
In the late ’90s, I went quite often to the old Ostgut Club, which was the predecessor of
today’s Berghain club. After the closure of the E-Werk in 1997, the Ostgut club rose to fill the
gap of the Berlin club culture for me. I was attracted to the dark and authentic attitude, the
ecstatic atmosphere and the extravagance of the venue and people which I still feel today
at the Berghain club. After the Ostgut club was shut in 2003, I discovered that the Berghain club
was in search of new talents. Luckily for me, my chance came. I played one night, and since
that night, I am grateful to say, it was the moment that my life changed.
Was there any specific musical inspiration that made you want to produce electronic music?
I draw a lot of my inspiration from the techno sound of the 1990s. Besides Aphex Twin and
techno from Birmingham I was also riveted by reduced albeit complex forms of the genre. I
remember my first club experience with Robert Hood and Claude Young on the decks at the old
Tresor venue. It was coupled with an unbelievable way of mixing, and sometimes I couldn’t bring
optics and acoustics in balance, so it was raw but incredibly funky! I love all these sounds and
still enjoy playing them as DJ today. And, of course, it also still influences my creative work.
Such impressions are constant companions and make this job so exciting. But above all my main
focus is creating something unique and new when I am producing.
Did you play any other instruments beforehand?
I started to play electric guitar when I was fifteen, but gave it up just one and a half years
later. Needless to say that it was not my finest talent, and now I probably wouldn’t be able to
play it if you asked me to! If I could choose my time again it would probably be drums as my
instrument of choice. I do sometimes enjoy sitting with friends, a nice sunset in the distance,
beating our djembes. I do love a good sunset!
When you are creating a track, how much are you thinking about what it will be used for,
versus the pure art of creating music? How much consideration do you give to entertaining a
crowd when writing a track?
I honestly have to say that I don’t think a lot about the capability of a track to entertain. I’m
a very emotional person and decide often pretty intuitively whilst producing the direction the
track will take. The most important thing is what I feel, and which emotions appeal to me throughout
the process. I try to stick to these principles, and take on board any advice and criticism afterward,
which I am always happy to take on board.
Do you try to write music for all sorts of emotions? As in, would you want to have happy,
sad, angry and contemplative tracks in your discography, working the entire emotional spectrum?
Emotions just arise unscheduled during the entire process. Sometimes they influence me more
intensely so I can introduce them into my sound ideas. Of course I’m excited about having more
facets as a producer and pass them on to new projects but for my discography I’m not really
planning a collection of all different emotions as possible.
What do you feel is the biggest musical limitation to what you’re doing?
To be honest, there are just a few things which restrain me at the moment. Overall I like the
fact that this branch is always moving. Limitations change, some of them deflect and others
get sort out. At the moment I am considering relocating my studio, which is currently in my
home, so I will be able to produce at any time I am feeling creative.
Do you have any plans for an album? What will you be releasing next?
Currently, I’m working on a couple of remixes for Time 2 Express, Soma and Perc. Furthermore
new releases on Mote Evolver and Ostgut Ton are planned. And in spring, there will be something
to carry from my own label. But of course the biggest upcoming project for me will be the next
Berghain mix CD, which will be released late summer this year. My debut album is then scheduled
How important is the physical club set-up to your music? Do you take acoustics into
The layout of a club doesn’t have a great deal of influence on my record selection. When I play in
a club for the first time, I tend to watch a few videos on YouTube, ask colleagues, make short
soundchecks before the gig, nothing too researched really. I have detected repeatedly that even
the most dynamic sounds work on each floor with the right crowd. In the end it’s just 100%
What would you say makes your DJ performance unique?
For me it’s important in my sets to put the tracks together like a puzzle which in the end tells
kind of a story. Even the roughest sounds can then create wonderful moments if you combine
them with more deeper and sometimes even epic sounds. In these moments you can sometimes
surprise yourself. I love those kind of moments because very often they set lots of positive
energy free in yourself which gets transferred to the crowd.
What is your understanding of how techno and dance music is viewed in the United States?
What was it like to perform here?
Techno was and is significantly influenced from the United States for sure, but it’s difficult to
assess how the techno scene is viewed in the United States these days. Despite this, I think
there are a lot of guys who know exactly what the techno scene is, and especially what
underground is about and what’s going on over there. My own few experiences with the scene
have been pretty nice, and I have received increasingly great feedback from the United States
following my premiere last year. Friends invited me over to New York to play at the famous Bunker
and subsequently at the Kontrol in San Francisco. Both clubs differ from each other, but I had a
wonderful time. I hope to get to play there again very soon!
Brainwashed Youth The Trilogy 7″ (Richie)
Fashionable Idiots might’ve thought they cornered the market on Cleveland-based idiocy, but thanks to Factorymen’s Shitman, and Brainwashed Youth’s new single, Richie Records has become the most trusted source for this particular strain of stupidity. Brainwashed Youth are three older thugs from that city, including a guy from Integrity (and probably an Inmate or two), and they parodize British Oi in such a moronic way that both Wat Tyler and Splodgeness Abounds seem like sophisticated museum-grade art by comparison. After a series of lackluster Oi-core tunes, a goofy chant and some average hardcore, Brainwashed Youth wrap things up with a reggae piss-take, in the fine tradition of horrible fake-reggae songs by punk bands (see Dirt Shit, Black Randy, Turnbul AC… even last month’s Dads single had one). It’s a pretty pointless record, although it does help me understand the type of environment where bands like Folded Shirt can flourish. You probably need to pick it up anyway; I mean, it’s not going to look good when your personal Richie Records collection has a gap at release #28. Just rest assured that both band and label will be having a laugh at your expense.
Chasing Voices Ex Nihilo Nihil 12″ (Preserved Instincts)
After enjoying the debut Chasing Voices track earlier this year, I was pleased to see another one-sided 12″, even though I would’ve appreciated it if Chasing Voices would’ve combined these two tracks on one piece of wax (the beauty of vinyl is that both sides can be grooved). Sucker that I am, I still doled out the PayPal funds for Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit, but financial gripes aside, I remain on-board the Chasing Voices Express. The title is a grim and kulty one, but the music is less militant electro-goth (ala Chasing Voices’ debut) and more ’90s rave. I like it – “Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit” pairs a foreboding groove and a punchy rhythm with some seasick synths, reminding me a lot of the recent Millie 12″s in the way that the brooding atmosphere never distracts from the beat. It’s dark but geared for dancing. Definitely different than the sluggish death-march that was the Chasing Voices debut, but I appreciate the fact that there’s more to this mysterious project than there was upon first glance. Oh, and I think I read somewhere that this is the project of an Excepter member, which makes sense, in a weird way. Not all white hipsters from Brooklyn suck, you know.
Clear Band Clear Band 12″ (New Editions)
The first thing I noticed about this debut Clear Band 12″ EP is its curious physicality: stuffed inside a thick plastic bag that puts my shower curtain to shame, it comes on the thickest clear vinyl I’ve seen in a while, with a hand-scrawled back cover and slightly off-centered labels (presumably not on purpose). The notable presentation is a pretty great medium for this brief clearinghouse of Harris Klahr’s musical ideas, whom you might remember from one of DC’s last great indie acts, Q And Not U. The two tracks on the a-side are acoustic guitar-driven ditties, pretty straightforward and quaint. There’s more than just singing and strumming, thanks to a sophisticated troupe of overdubbed electrics, bass and keys, but these songs stay true to the Clear Band moniker, sounding more like a band amped up on early psychedelia, or kraut-rock’s lighter side, than a solo project looking to melt your mind via a deluge of scattered effects. The flip’s “Open Society Now” is the meditative closer, and it’s like Edward Delaypedalhands is at work here, concentrating on his melodic scales like a particularly feisty Hans-Joachim Roedelius, until a drummer heats up a groove and someone starts riffing on an undistorted electric guitar like a modern-day Santana. I don’t know, somehow it works. Clear Band definitely taps into the deepest CTI and Brain cuts, the records your dad refused to pay import prices for back in 1974, and I get the impression there is more to come.
Crazy Spirit Crazy Spirit 7″ (Toxic State)
There’s been a lot of Internet fuss over Crazy Spirit, and while they may not be the most mind-blowing punk band to form in the past year or so, they are certainly one of the most enjoyable. Crazy Spirit are a bunch of New York City kids, dressed up like the punks in Class of ’84 or Driller Killer, and wearing it as naturally as Vampire Weekend do their Burberry. Musically, you can practically hear their yellow-browned tees and dirtbag attitude in every cut – Crazy Spirit play mid-paced and gnarly hardcore that calls to mind the ’90s Clevo hardcore-punk scene (H-100s, Cider, Nine Shocks) intermingling with the finest squatter-punk NYC had to offer (Choking Victim, the Casualties). Crazy Spirit’s vocalist has probably stirred up interest in the band more than any other aspect of them, though, as his squealy, scummy vocals recall the Quincy Punx guy, the Accused guy, GG Allin, and a pitch-modulated Darby Crash at varying moments. He really goes for it, and it’s because of these wild troll screams that I’m so into Crazy Spirit as a whole. The beautifully-screened packaging (envelope, insert and center labels all time-consumingly printed) almost betrays the band’s “email@example.com” email address, but it’s that mix of utter punk stupidity and careful craftsmanship that has me eager for their upcoming demo-as-12″ release.
Demdike Stare Voices of Dust LP (Modern Love)
It’s pretty difficult for me to keep up with any artist who releases multiple albums, singles and mixes in a year, but Demdike Stare have me utterly hooked. I love pretty much everything they’ve done in the past, but they never stop evolving, either – Voices of Dust in particular steps further into the unknown. The soaring, free-form bass tones that open “Black Sun” are a fine signpost for the rest of the album, almost entirely avoiding dub techno or any other sort of familiar dance music, content instead to spiral off on tangents both murky and frightening. “Hashshashin Chant” samples a high-speed Indian or middle-eastern chant (my ethnomusicological skills are weak) that seems barely altered from the original recording, and “Rain & Shame” kicks off the b-side with a midnight poltergeist that stalks around the room. There’s a lot of that free-form dread on here – Demdike Stare have practically reached “dark ambient” status with Voices of Dust, yet their sensitivity towards bass tone and compositional detail remain unmatched by any other techno guy trying to barge into a séance. Of their three main releases this year, Voices of Dust is probably the least immediately stunning, but just as ultimately satisfying as the rest. If I ever enter a mysterious room, only to find that the door I just walked through is no longer there, Demdike Stare sure as hell better be blasting.
The Fresh & Onlys Tell Me What You Want To Know / Nothing Ever Happens 7″ (Hozac)
Kind of a misleading moniker for this group, as their music isn’t particularly fresh, nor are they the only group currently playing this sort of thing. “Tell Me What You Want To Know” is a train ride out West with some of the lesser offerings of the Pebbles compilations in your knapsack. It chugs along on this garagey, sunshine-country sound, but without any sort of hook to boost it up, like taking a road-trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco with a half a tank of gas and expecting it to somehow work out. “Nothing Ever Happens” is a title so ripe for mockery that I’ll just let the obvious joke lie; it’s more of a rocker anyway, but it also showcases the singer’s lousy voice, his singing style a sour mix of warbly and aloof that goes down like a glass of expired Clamato. There is very little about this record that appeals to me (even the appropriated cover images from Dorothy’s Industrial Records single rub me the wrong way), but this Hozac Hookup Klub 7″ is my only experience with The Fresh & Onlys, and history tells me not to judge a band solely on their singles club material. Wouldn’t be surprised if they saved the good stuff for their albums, but it’s going to take a matter of random chance for me to ever find out.
Haus Arafna You LP (Galakthorrö)
What a pleasant surprise to learn that Haus Arafna, my favorite sinister German husband and wife electro-industrial duo, have a new album out called You, available just in time for the grimmest of winter months. Haus Arafna are an odd band, as no one I know seems to really be aware of them, yet their records sell out instantly, to the point where their mailing list is more of a taunt for what I missed rather than a useful consumer tool. I tried to subvert that problem by asking to put out a Haus Arafna record myself, but was met with a firm and friendly response that confirmed they will only ever release their music on Galakthorrö, their own label. Thankfully, I tracked down You quickly, and it’s a prize worth celebrating – the Arafnas are as moody, spooky and poetic as ever before, perhaps leaning closer to the quieter / less-industrial moments of their other project, November Növelet. They seem to understand the inner workings of a synthesizer better than almost anyone else who makes industrial cold-wave, twisting all sorts of frightening turns and unexpected melodies out of the same sound spectrum they’ve been working for years. You is strongest in the middle, thanks to particularly haunting and cinematic songs like “Judas Kiss” and “Today You Died”, along with the gritty thunderheads of the title track. The Arafnas are wearing makeshift Michael Myers masks in the insert, a gesture that would come across as parody or ironic poseur-dom in the hands of anyone else, but there is something so perfectly constructed and frighteningly real about Haus Arafna that it makes perfect sense.
Hot Guts / Pop. 1280 split 7″ (Badmaster)
Chalk it up to a decline in the quality and frequency of split singles, or my increasingly crotchety demeanor, but I can’t remember the last split 7″ that I anticipated on the merit of both groups like this one here. I loved last year’s Pop. 1280 single, and Hot Guts had me intrigued with theirs, so let’s keep that optimism going and give Hot Guts another whirl. Two songs on their side: “Da’rat Hessla” is the opener, and the aggressor of the two, bouncing with the energy of ’77 punk and crying into a mirror with the misery of ’84 goth. Kind of like if 23 Skidoo released something on Three.One.G. They follow that with “Ponys”; it’s like a Puerto Rico Flowers tune with lower aspirations or something, and it’s not bad at all. Pop. 1280 throw me for a loop with the dance-y, poppy “Neon Lights”; there’s a simple two-note keyboard riff, heavy drumming that builds and fades, and the singer’s meaty vocals that never fail to deliver some sort of meaningful chorus. They’ve probably still got a Birthday Party vibe going, but it isn’t here at all, and I’m totally cool with that. While I can’t say that either side blows me away, neither band disappoints me, either… it’s certainly a smart pairing of two of today’s younger and better post-punk groups.
Idle Times Idle Times LP (Hozac)
Idle Times are one of those bands who have entered my periphery on multiple occasions, via comp tracks, 7″ singles and bored-at-work Googling, without ever making any sort of impression. I’ve been spinning this debut self-titled album for a couple weeks now, hoping that eventually something would jump out and give me something to say about it, but I’m still having trouble… it’s the most middle-of-the-road bedroom punk I’ve heard, practically defining the genre and canceling its own existence at the same time. Songs like “There You Go” and “Do You Hear Those Bells?” have hooks when I’m listening to them, but once I turn it off, it’s like I’m stuck in Memento, unable to recall what has just happened or how I got here. It’s probably the muddy, mid-range recording that does Idle Times in, lacking any real punch or interesting frequencies – it’s as if all the amps were covered in wet bath-towels and cardboard, siphoning the music’s life-force before it has a chance to reach my ears. It’s a pretty unremarkable record, which rightfully infers that it’s not an unpleasant listen, either… I’m just left feeling empty and unsatisfied after spinning Idle Times. Sometimes it’s more fun to listen to a record you really hate than something that has no real substance either way, you know? At least then I’m feeling something.
James Arthur’s Manhunt James Arthur’s Manhunt LP (Aarght!)
Nothing tickles me quite like seeing the Aarght! label on the back of a new record, especially one that comes with Ooga Boogas-y artwork, care of Per Byström (a ‘Booga himself, no less). Turns out the label looked to North America for this one, in the form of James Arthur and his Manhunt, a group of rugged Texans who recorded this album in a shack. It’s my first encounter with Mr. Arthur, and I kinda wish Aarght! put their Australian dollars (now with a practically equivalent US exchange rate) into a new Total Control or Ooga Boogas record instead… the unfocused psychedelic garage of James Arthur’s Manhunt doesn’t really do it for me. Over the course of this pretty long album, they go from country stumble to tinkered electronics to goofy pop-tune, never quite hitting the spot. I like Haunted George, and I like Lamps, and I like Roky Erickson, all of whom could be reasonable reference points for the sound of James Arthur’s Manhunt, but this record never finds its footing like those other artists do. They aren’t talented or weird enough to entertain me with their loose and noisy jams, and their inability to slap down a catchy hook has me disinterested in their more straight-forward numbers. I don’t know, I gave it a number of tries, but I still think the money used to press this one would’ve been better served as funding for the Eddy Current Hawaiian tour that needs to happen before I die.
LA Vampires feat. Matrix Metals So Unreal LP (Not Not Fun)
Often, when the noise/punk basement underground reacts to pop music, it’s with a violent kick to the ribs, biting satire or complete indifference, but LA Vampires and Matrix Metals take a different route, instead doing their best to make pop puke its guts out. So Unreal has the sound of a Debbie Gibson record that was forced to read a fine-print book while in the backseat of a compact car with bad shocks on a long road trip, developing a severe case of motion sickness that no amount of promethazine can cure. The melted ’80s exercise video vibe is strong here, too, reminding me of oOoOO or James Ferraro at their laziest, or MF Doom’s Special Herbs series of instrumentals at its most nostalgic. LA Vampires’ collab with Zola Jesus was heavy on the prison-dub, and there’s really none of that here, as LA Vamps instead move full-on with the chopped-and-screwed Tim and Eric aesthetic, which took me by surprise. LA Vampires and Matrix Metals submerse themselves completely in it, though, and while I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as the Zola Jesus record, it gets by on its own merits and vision. So Unreal really toes that line between witch-house and chill-wave, and if you’re able to read that phrase without getting angry, it’s a record that will satisfy your need for woozy nightmare-stolgia.
Lovey Dovies Lovey Dovies CD (no label)
While I was expecting some sort of fey Brit-pop from the name (or at least an appropriately cutesy tourmate for the Softboiled Eggies), Lovey Dovies rock harder than one would initially expect. They’re a power-trio from New Orleans, channeling the Mascis-y vocals and fuzzed guitars of Dinosaur Jr. and the urgency of Husker Du. Turns out, this approach also resembles something like the college radio-friendly pop-punk of the mid ’90s (Weston, Sleepasaurus and Digger all come to my mind), a time when you’d hear Elliott Smith (who Lovey Dovies emulate on “Stained Sleeve”) back to back with The Mr. T Experience and it made sense. Didn’t realize people were still playing this sort of modest indie-rock, where the humble musicianship speaks for itself; maybe no one would check the Lovey Dovies Twitter feed even if they had one, but they seem content with playing shows, putting out their own CDs and just experiencing the many subtle satisfactions of playing in a rock band. Lovey Dovies isn’t geared for blowing minds, it’s geared for modest enjoyment, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Mannequin Men Hobby Girl / See Saw 7″ (Hozac)
Another Hozac single from a newish band whose name makes them difficult to recall (we’re in a world where Manikin, Mannequin Piss, The Men, and Mannequin all have recently existed), although Mannequin Men are one of the recent Hookup Klub’s least annoying. “Hobby Girl” is full-on Pavement worship, as if the entire band is humming “Range Life” or “Shady Lane” to themselves while performing. I like Pavement, and I’ll give Mannequin Men credit for aping something as smooth, tolerable and ultimately pleasant as Pavement over The Oh Sees or Blank Dogs any day. That may sound pathetic, but that’s where we’re at. “See Saw” isn’t a Jay Reatard cover, and it isn’t a full-on Stephen Malkmus tribute like the a-side either, instead it finds its own ground via familiar chord changes, backup vocal “ooh”s and an incensed lead vocal. Not bad, but I’d probably prefer the cozy familiarity of “Hobby Girl” if I was forced to choose. Either way, we’ve got an inoffensive and satisfactory single on our hands, in a landscape where there really isn’t enough room for one more…
Movie Star Junkies In A Night Like This EP 10″ (Kill Shaman / Ghost)
In an effort to give this band a fair shake, I have re-named them MS Junk. Got a decent ring to it, right? They’ve got four songs on this 10″ EP, and it’s pretty sweet, like a mix of modern-day Mudhoney and Grinderman (but far less cool and charismatic, of course). I’m more into the power-strutters like opener “Loneliness Like Clouds Above” or “Odyssey of Jason” than piano-driven sadness piles like “Twice Upon a Time”, but I’ve always preferred songs that kick ass rather than lament the kicking of their own asses, even if they do so with vigor and the occasional scorching solo. Really though, MS Junk have a good thing going on, and I now understand why I keep seeing their unabbreviated name on message boards’ “new releases” pages, with multiple labels eager to get a piece of the action.
Natural Law Slump 7″ (Katorga Works / Hesitation Wound)
Here’s a nice cut of modern, heavy hardcore, the type of record that uses that same font that most good hardcore bands/labels use these days. (I know they didn’t invent it, but I can’t help but call it “the Painkiller Records font” in my head. Impact Wide or something?) Slump kicks off with a feedback fade-in and does just what it’s supposed to do for about eight minutes, staying low to the ground and pummeling with the confidence of youth. Will Killingsworth’s recording is nice and punchy, without an unnecessary layer of trendy white-noise shrouding the riffs, allowing these five songs to simply and effectively complete their tasks. Kind of like a less-memorable Deathreat, as played by a group of strident and enthusiastic kids. I checked out the Hesitation Wound blog, and they posted stuff like “test pressings are here!” and “working on the center sticker art!” leading up to the Natural Law 7″ release, and I can’t help but remember how great that feeling is to put out your first 7″, to go through that process and get more and more excited as things come to fruition, from printed covers to test pressing approval. So many labels these days seem to crank out records in an assembly-line fashion, as if their existence is some sort of indentured servitude, so it’s nice to know that kids are still getting thrilled by the alchemical process of creating a vinyl record.
Nuclear Family Nuclear Family LP (Loud Punk)
Gotta give it up to any label named Loud Punk, and as I enjoyed the Germ Attak album they released a few months ago, I figured this Nuclear Family record would be good too. Thankfully, Nuclear Family don’t let the label down with this self-titled (and apparently posthumous) record. It’s pretty standard rocking punk with hardcore flourishes, reminding me a lot of Naked Aggression or a less nostalgic Masshysteri. It’s a versatile punk style, nice and energetic, but also anchored to melody, the kind of sound that could fit on a mixtape with anyone from Code 13 to Screeching Weasel and still flow logically. Something like “Believer’s Choice of Victory” goes after anthem status, with the singer really belting out some lines with an impassioned scream to rival a young Joan Jett. It’s gotta be real tough to sell out a pressing of a fairly unknown punk band that has already broken up, but I can see how the music of Nuclear Family would compel Loud Punk to make it happen, sales be damned.
Pearson Sound Blanked / Blue Eyes 12″ (Hessle Audio)
After David Kennedy’s stunning debut as Pearson Sound, last year’s PLSN / WAD single, it seemed like Kennedy aimed the Pearson Sound project in a more relaxed direction with subsequent 12″s. Pearson’s return to Hessle Audio changes that, though, as these two songs are two truly visceral displays of bass. You probably know Kennedy best as Ramadanman, I know I do, and through his various projects he’s always been one to toy with bass, molding it in various forms and nudging it in every possible direction. He does that here with “Blanked”, featuring a downward-sliding squelch that literally dims the halogen lights in my room. It’s like the mythic “brown sound”, but it causes electronics to malfunction, not bowels. Pretty amazing. “Blue Eyes” is just as phenomenal, tricking you with its lightweight intro before dropping a bass bomb on the other end of your see-saw, catapulting you into Lil Wayne’s trunk. It’s a dastardly move, but when those fluffy vocal snips conga into the room, it’s easy to reason that your Pearson Sound-induced hearing loss is cause for celebration. Whatever you do, don’t listen to this on your computer – hook it up to your surround sound, bring it to Best Buy’s stereo hut, DJ it at a bar… the Pearson Sound experience is worth the accommodation.
Pop. 1280 The Grid EP 12″ (Sacred Bones)
Pop. 1280’s debut single was a pretty nice slice of distraught post-punk, but in no way did it prepare me to step into The Grid. On this substantial EP, these boys really dig into a harder, gnarlier sound that relies less on influence and more on their own unique chemistry. Really, it’s what I always wished Liars sounded like – burly, unhinged post-punk with a capable and confident singer, jarring guitars with just the right percentage of feedback, a catchy rhythmic core and a fine supply of synthy noise, all distilled into the essence of a frightening New York City that eats its tourists alive. No disco beats or artful wankery need apply. “Step Into the Grid” is the rightful anthem, an essentially unchanging riff that just hammers away until you’re ready to accept the seedy characters Pop. 1280 throw at you. “Anonymous Blonde” works that Birthday Party guitar tone into something of a mechanical monster, and “Redtube”, if I’m processing it right, is one of the most compelling odes to Internet porn I’ve ever heard. They end it with “Trash Cop”, another solid anthem that hams it up a bit towards the end, really making sure you understand that the annoying trash cop catches what you drop. I can’t think of many modern post-punk bands who so effectively use the teachings of previous decades (paranoid riffs, gross poetry, bleating keyboards) while creating their own special thing like Pop. 1280, and I really hope other people catch on. All hope is not lost.
Raime If Anywhere Was Here He Would Know Where We Are 12″ (Blackest Ever Black)
You mean to tell me there still isn’t a blacker label around? I guess I’ll have to take Raime’s word for it on his tongue-twisting second EP. If you enjoyed Raime’s debut, the title track is more of the same: a subtle dribbling of basketballs in a lonely concrete warehouse, with little more than the echo of the walls for ambiance. Very stripped down, as if Shackleton was attempting to see just how many layers of sound he could subtract from a track while still maintaining some sort of rhythmic progress. Regis (of Downwards Records, not & Kelly fame) provides a remix to “This Foundry” on the flip, essentially unrecognizable to my ears as the dark and subtle original off the first Raime single that it once was. I’m grateful for the remix though, as it adds a more propulsive energy to Raime without betraying the artist’s industrial-goth despondence. Fits right in with that Silent Servant / Sandwell District vibe, where the sounds of Chicago house and techno are rusted shut by a Post-Communist Eastern European anomie. Put this on, light a black candle, open an Aleister Crowley book to any random page and scare yourself silly.
Reading Rainbow Tough Love / Over It 7″ (Hozac)
Seriously… I have to talk about a band called “Reading Rainbow”? I’d rather give serious consideration to a band called Clarissa Explains It All or 21 Jumpstreet (and I am sure there are currently demos in the works for both names), but apparently a lot of people like this Reading Rainbow band, so here goes. “Tough Love” is comprised of two somewhat incongruous parts: ’60s reverb light-harmony and frantic punky strumming. Each approach takes its own turn, then sort of combines; the process repeats, and my needle quickly heads to the center sticker, begging for release. “Over It” seems a little more put-together, continuing to target that post-hippie / pre-punk sound, and pulling it off pretty well. Velvets, Kinks, Beach Boys, that sort of vibe, albeit on a far more humbler and simpler level. I’d spin the b-side again, and will almost surely see this band live sometime in the future, as we live about 50 city blocks apart, unless of course they blow up to super-stardom sometime in the near future. But really, when it comes to the future, I don’t see much of a place for this 7″ beyond the dusty purgatory known as “The Dollar Bin”.
Sauna Youth Youth 7″ (no label)
I’ve got a love/hate relationship with “____ Youth” bands, as there are roughly five million of them, some of whom are totally great, along with many others that should’ve never existed in the first place. I’ll let you figure out what camp the aforementioned Brainwashed Youth belong in, and go ahead and spin Youth by Sauna Youth, not to be confused with Sonic Youth, although the band members were probably born in the ’80s, which technically makes them Reagan Youth, even though they’re from the UK… Anyway, Sauna Youth offer four songs of punchy punk-rock, the type of rough-and-tumble independent music that No Idea built their reputation on. Four songs, but it seems like they could’ve fit double on here, as each tune checks out quickly. The sharp-looking 3/4 sleeve didn’t have me expecting music that sounds indebted to Kid Dynamite in some way, but it’s kind of cool to not fit the design stereotype so faithfully. I’d probably prefer some Agitation Free the next time I’m in a sauna, but Sauna Youth could surely soundtrack some other humble role in my life.
Shackleton Man On A String Part 1 and 2 / Bastard Spirit 12″ (Woe To The Septic Heart!)
It took Shackleton’s Blood On My Hands to really click with me, but he’s been on fire since, entering an entirely unique dimension with last year’s Three EPs and continuing to cut through the jungle with this 12″ on his new label, whose pretentious name ends with an exclamation point. If I had to explain why Shackleton is so great to someone, I’d be hard pressed to pick a different track than “Man On A String Part 1 and 2″: we’ve got a pulse-raising beat, some frightening electronic swoops, drums of unknown origin and a bass line so massive and melodic it makes me realize there is more to life than just Pearson Sound. I’m not entirely sure where Part 1 ends and Part 2 begins, but the entire cut (and it’s a long one) weaves through strange environments as if led by a native guide. It’s really hard to sit down to a reverb-pop garage 7” after entering Shackleton’s heady realm, it just sucks you in too deep. B-side “Bastard Spirit” plays on a different speed, but a good part of the fun is figuring that out yourself – I’ve played it too fast (and too slow) in the process, discovering new aspects of the track every time. The bass is even more constant on this one, volleying between two pitches while hollow percussion clangs along. I am sure Shackleton’s Fabric mix is superb as well, but I’m giving myself a little time before checking it out… this 12″ is so substantive that I’m just not yet ready for more. Cool cover art too, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t join me at this feast.
Sharp Ends Sharp Ends LP (Kill Shaman)
Canada has no shortage of raucous post-punk records these days, Sharp Ends being the most recent to slide onto my turntable. Pretty predictable stuff, but not in a bad way – Sharp Ends do the “new-wave A Frames” thing like many others, but they do it well. Imagine Pink Noise as a real band, or The Intelligence without their many quirks, or a restrained Nice Face, and you’re in the vicinity. There’s even some funny black-and-white-striped guys on the back cover, who might be the same people on the Factums’ Siltbreeze record. Is there a union for weird guys who pose on noisy punk records? While Sharp Ends never quite connect with a razor-sharp hook, they come pretty close pretty often, and at ten songs, I haven’t yet gotten bored by Sharp Ends, which is certainly a good sign – I just haven’t really been jonesing for it. Unless they come through again soon with a mammoth follow-up, a year from now the Sharp Ends will probably be as blurry and pixelated in my brain as their logo is on the cover (seriously, there’s no excuse for this sort of sloppy graphic design), but for now, I’m digging it.
Sohrab A Hidden Place LP (Touch)
I kinda hate artists whose life stories overshadow their music; if I have to understand that the main guy from Girls was a brainwashed kidnapped teenager in order to enjoy his Elvis Costello-y pop, something’s not right, you know? Sohrab is a twentysomething living an isolated and sad life in Iran (or so says the press sheet), and while his existence certainly factors into the sounds of A Hidden Place, it’s not crucial to the enjoyment of such. As to be expected from the Touch label, Sohrab is not a musician so much as a designer of sound, manipulating artificial electronic bubbles and lush drones alongside field recordings of village markets or wherever in Iran roosters are likely to crow. Emotions run thick on A Hidden Place – I get the impression that the source material has a deeper meaning to Sohrab than most sound artists, as if these are the familiar and foreboding tones he encounters on a daily basis, rearranged and organized in hopes of providing some sort of clarity for the listener and himself. It’s not a place I want to visit on a daily basis, but it’s evocative enough that I quickly lose myself when there.
SQRM Rodeo LP (Youth Attack)
Much like the pathetic life-size clown face that glares at you from the cover, SQRM are exhausted by life and their station within it. Rodeo is a hardcore record, pretty straight-forward, but the band’s fatigue and disgust really ties the whole thing together. While they blast violently about 30% of the time, SQRM tend to stick with dirges that feel like physical tests, as if someone is slowly piling cinderblocks on the backs of the band members as they play. It’s as if going to the store to buy Gatorade is as difficult as basic-training boot camp for these guys, and they want to share that uncomfortable sensation. The singer kinda just goes off on his own, regardless of whether the music is tumbling through a chaotic drum roll or angrily plodding along; he mutters under his breath, sometimes with lines that stick with me (“cut my strings so I can dance on your faces”), sometimes with lines better kept to himself (“I’m a fucking freak, spit on me”). It might sound like any other Youth Attack band to the untrained ear, but SQRM really have their own thing going on, probably because they seem to have no interest in reigning it in, just wailing away on stoner-metal riffs and hardcore beats with an insane whiner screaming over top. Much like Crom were the weird odd-man-out when it came to power-violence, the band that was probably more dangerous and stupid than all of their peers, SQRM seems to occupy that same position in the realm of modern noisy hardcore. Rodeo is great.
SQRM White Saints 7″ (Abscess)
Here’s a teaser 7″ EP to SQRM’s Youth Attack full-length. I just couldn’t wait, as SQRM are certainly the grossest of Boston’s current hardcore crop. I saw them in a club and the singer was flopping around on the floor, shirtless and shoeless, picking up new layers of filth on his hairy frame, while the guitars/drums/electronics ignored him, plodding away, and in the case of the electronics, frequently malfunctioning, too. Two of SQRM’s white things you don’t want to touch comprise the a-side, “White Stains” and “White Socks”, both serious and twisted dirges with the occasional blastbeat shaking the listener like an unopened beer. Lots of bands are going for that “My War Side 2” tip these days, but only SQRM have really captured that sort of ugly and stupid desperation, like they have less of a desire to shock, and more of a need to release their insides onto the floor. Ever the color-coordinated group, they round out the b-side with “White Rabbit”, a loose rendition of the Jefferson Airplane classic, offering a sincere interpretation that rivals Ulcer’s rendition of “I Touch Myself”. Most people probably just need the LP, especially as “White Stain” appears on both, but this is a band whose appeal has led people to pay money for t-shirts made out of garbage bags – I split the difference, bought this single, and was pleased with my decision.
Terrorism Skyguide cassette (Hospital Productions)
Pretty great noise-core cassette here from Terrorism, the drumming half of the fantastic Endless Humiliation group. The similarities are glaring, but in the best of ways – Terrorism follows a wild, violent and similarly unhinged approach to music making, turning everything up to ten and melting his four-track in the process, like how the music of Mayhem sounded in your head after reading about their exploits but before you actually heard them. It’s my understanding that Terrorism is only drums and vocals, but the layers of static and noise jump from the speakers like a burst of hot debris; it’s my guess that he is firing out wicked blastbeats, but the crashing cymbals and bass drum / snare interplay only surface at various times through the first three tracks. The fourth and final untitled track branches out the most, slowing to a martial pace and giving off strong vibes of the first Air Conditioning album, thanks to the incessant bass, buzzing highs and powerful drums. Really hope Terrorism finds a way to vinyl sometime soon. I actually almost brought this tape on a plane with me, until I realized a “Terrorism Skyguide” cassette with Arabic writing probably isn’t the best accessory for a successful security screening.
Robert Turman Way Down LP (Dais)
Dais is probably the best modern label this side of Vinyl On Demand when it comes to obscure industrial/noise reissues, of which this is their latest. Robert Turman is the other guy in NON, he who played on the group’s first single and then quit to pursue his own electronic and experimental dance music on and off throughout the next two decades. Way Down was a cassette release from 1987, and it sounds like a cassette from 1987 – there’s a gothy patina overtaken by an EBM pulse and proto-rave vibes amidst the home-dubbed samples and rudimentary synth sounds. Reminds me a bit of the first Cold Cave 12″, actually, thanks to Turman’s knack at building melodies out of discordant and misbehaving sounds, creating some sort of playful industrial music that never quite reaches pop. Album closer “Clean Living” is probably my favorite – it’s got a wonderfully precise beat going on as Robert Turman delivers a pleasurably unsettling array of sounds. Way Down didn’t floor me in the same way that last year’s Deviation Social reissue did, that thing was just phenomenal, but my interest in the rest of Turman’s early catalog is piqued nonetheless.
Floris Vanhoof Time Slime LP (Ultra Eczema)
The retail price on most Ultra Eczema records is enough to give anyone a serious case of consumer doubt, but this Floris Vanhoof LP (which seems to be priced in the $20-25 range, a comparatively modest price) is the perfect instrument for turning one’s brain to a fine slush. I have no idea who Mr. Vanhoof is, or what he does, and Time Slime only obfuscates things further, as it skips across all sorts of sounds and styles and sources… the first side opens with a rough n’ twangy guitar extension, kind of like an isolated Dead C guitar track, and it shifts into a recording of a person stumbling through cubic foot after cubic foot of abandoned rental-garage trash, kicking around random broken furniture and bottles like an old-timey slapstick routine. If you enjoy the Haters 7″ that is nothing but the sounds of glass breaking, Vanhoof had you in mind. Soon after, Time Slime morphs into other unclassified recordings and sideways drones, and then a techno beat fades in and out, as you’re outside of a warehouse rave and frequently walk past the entrance. This description probably isn’t the wallet-opening praise I want it to be, so just understand that Floris Vanhoof has a total knack for creating some of the most curious and appealing sounds and is able to put them together as if he were curating the world’s most unique mixtape. Much like Astral Social Club’s ability to create a buzzing hive of distinct sounds, Vanhoof knows how to fill an LP of jumbled noise that doesn’t sound like every other album of jumbled noise. The usually colorful and pointless Ultra Eczema inserts are all here, as well as a top-notch mastering job that adds a vivid layer of paint to Time Slime. If you only buy one field-recording/noise/outsider/mental album this year…
A Fundamental Experiment compilation LP (Semina Tapes)
A few months ago, a beloved musician / man-about-town in San Fran referred to as “J.M.W.” fell a few stories and cracked himself up badly. His hospital bills mounted, so his buds put together this compilation LP as a benefit. Much like the Food Not Bombs and In Memory of Jason benefit LPs that came out some 15 years ago, this one collects a pretty good grouping of like-minded yet disparate artists, and ends up loosely documenting a scene in the process. On A Fundamental Experiment, you get Julian Lynch, Sun Araw, Stag Hare covering Neil Young, and Matt Mondanile of Ducktails fame, among others… pretty much any adult-oriented chill-waver who ever got a one-page feature in Wire is here, and it’s a nice mood-setter. Lush and calm drones meet laid-back country blues, as if Jim Jarmusch was commissioned to film a television commercial for the Arizona Jeans Company. It accompanied a game of Taboo in my living room nicely (no one asked what it was, or for me to turn it off), and it’s for a solid cause, why not take it home with you?
Fünf compilation 7xLP (Ostgut Ton)
If you like techno like I like techno, Ostgut Ton’s celebratory Fünf boxset is a bounty of riches. Seven LPs here, 23 tracks, from some of the label’s bigger names (Marcel Dettman, Shed and Ben Klock) to the lesser-knowns (Tama Sumo, Norman Nodge, etc.), all of whom seem dedicated to make this compilation an excellent production. Apparently Emika recorded the inner sounds of Berghain, the club itself, creating a source material that was sampled by all the artists here. Emika’s opener, “Cooling Room”, is the most obvious sampling of said recordings, allowing the organic sounds of chains and garbage cans to rule the proceedings, giving the track an industrial tremor that’s more Einstürzende Neubauten than Silent Servant. Other artists conceal their sampling entirely, working it deep within a luscious house groove, and some opt to create new strains of art-techno with this unusual sound-base. I have some favorites, like Marcel Fengler’s dubsteppy “Shiraz”, Soundstream’s swinging “Wenn Meine Mutti Wüsste” and Murat Tepeli’s “Hold On” (it sounds like an outtake from Luomo’s Vocalcity, so good), but there really isn’t a dud in the bunch. It’s a lot to digest, and probably impossible to really process in one solid sitting, but it’s the perfect compilation to come back to again and again, picking a random starting point (or returning to one’s own personal faves) and transporting yourself to what is undoubtedly the coolest club in Berlin. Gather your nerves, look past the intimidating “seven LP boxset” aspect and treat yourself right!