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Excellent Documentary about the Hague’s Acid scene in the Nineties

September 27, 2012

In my ongoing efforts at filling the blanks of my knowledge of the techno that I obsessed about in the nineties I found out more about the Hague’s acid, and later electro scene. It seems the sort of squat parties I went to Holland looking for (about a year too late for the real deal), after being spurned on by Spiral Tribe mixtapes, had influenced and were influenced by the Hague’s defiant scene and the Bunker and Acid Planet labels in particular. Act’s like Unit Moebius, who’s tracks were unidentified treasures to people like me without internet, or access to those in the know, were hailed as Europe’s Underground Resistance and they have left a rich musical legacy still celebrated today.

In fact Bunker has just past it’s twentieth aniversay and have a mix online to celebrate showcasing a fraction of the high quality inventive material the label supported .

Alternatively the Creme organisation also have posted a mix by former Unit Moebius member, the man behind Beverley hills 808303 and Space Invaders are Smoking Grass, IF:

The real pleasure for me was coming across this documentary from 2004, I watched it on youtube but found a better link with the whole show together

It features IF, Legowelt, Alden Tyrell, Guy Tavares and others talking about what the older scene was like and how it evolved and split into different interest groups. Production styles and techniques are mentioned along with the philosophies behind the music. I.F. is a bit of a legend, I would of listened to him set the world to rights for the full 45 mins. Favorite quotes include this one from IF about what makes a worthy track:

“A track should talk, a track should walk. First it goes straight, then comes the break and then it goes left, then straight again, then it turns right and then it goes in other directions. Something has to happen with the song otherwise it’s just more of the same.”

Also Bunker main man Guy on the universality of music and an explanation of taste:

“Music is an emotional illusion. Bunker is nothing more than a factory of illusions,the same goes for Motorwolf and all the other labels on the planet. Since emotions are part of all time and cultures, always and everywhere in the same way, music is equally the same. Depending on the emotional need you create an illusion to satisfy that need. The only reason you have a different taste is because you’re emotionally different. That’ why we have different tastes. But the way you bring emotional impact is the same all over the world…..

(Interviewer:The same tastes?)

See it as a palette of tastes, each palette is made up of the same emotions. So you can decide for yourself if music is good or not, because there’s music that appeal to your emotions and there is music that fails in that aspect. Or appeals to emotions which you have no interest in.”


Here’s a track here’s how I made it No.2

August 12, 2012

Here’s a track I’m really happy with, it came together over about four three to four hour sessions if I don’t include the nights spent searching for an idea to start with. I hope to release a HQ version of this at some stage with the other acid tracks i’m making at the moment, but the soundcloud version sounds ok. I haven’t put up a screenshot of the ableton project this time because I think maybe that ruins the mystery.

With a track like this there’s going to have to be a solid midi foundation that really keeps my interest. The actual midi pattern will undergo lots of revisions. The earliest version uses instruments that I knew I was going to replace (apart from the acid). I mostly used the instruments and send returns etc from the last track I had made ( I deleted the arrangement and clips and tried my hardest to find new patterns that would breath a different life into the sounds.

These patterns themselves got to a point where they either suggested other sounds or I experimented with a lot of different sounds which were within the sonic palette where I was trying to work, in this case electrobass, acid etc… This would then show problems with the midi which would change and then the sound design would change again until I had something that felt natural in it’s own way and just spoke In a way that made sense to me.

Sometimes I hum ridiculous sounding voice mail messages of melodies to myself or test my ropey keyboard playing skills. Another option that can give unexpected results is taking existing midi and applying different midi processes like stretch and reverse, some max4live plug ins and just working the controls on a long chain of these until something starts jamming. That was how I stumbled across the main rhythm that is playing ableton’s collision (more on that below). I record the output of the chain into another channel and work the chain again to see if I can give the original riffs some brothers and sisters which I can use to develop the track.

This collection of new midi clips have all the excess fat trimmed away and the idea I respond to in each is extenuated as much as possible. The acid part was an existing midi pattern I had from a few weeks earlier when I spent a night just doing acid lines. Except for the acid melody that occurs after the first break which was written to complete that part of the track and the breaks themselves which were edited copies of the midi going on in the other channels. Later when the clips are arranged notes get endless punches back and forth and up and down until the whole thing flows. Nearly every time I sat down to work on this track something would sound off when the track played through and nearly all the instrument and sound design was done at the same stage as the final note changes and transposes.
The sound design itself pretty much fell into place in most cases. The main pad came out of another night where I just sat there and did sound design because I didn’t feel inspired to do anything else. It’s a single instance of operator which I tripled so each voice had it’s own chain and saturation within a rack device (with the D oscillator doing FM duties for all three). Surprisingly one voice set to Sw8 and a bit of detune gave that Aphex style pad sound the other oscillator’s were on attack duties but in higher octaves with delays and autopans. The collision instrument is providing that clanging riff. I chopped and changed this sound a lot finally settling for a Library preset (the shame!) called skull canyon which I of course edited along with an instance of Omicide which was tweaked until everything bitted but sat in the mix and rang out like a hammered piece of scrap metal.
Beat wise this track was 4/4 for a night or two but I was happiest with the almost Meat Katie sounding electro pattern which fitted snug with the acid sound. Tuning, decay, side chain compression and a gate reverb were used to give it a confident strut. The hats were a funny one as they are just a little off grid and can sound badly off beat when the beat is heard by itself but with the pad in particular it all seems to work. Personally i think that’s a good thing, it’s interesting, I know I’ve left awkward beats in tracks before when I shouldn’t so I hope I don’t regret this and have to change it later. The kick and snare are being played from Xfer’s Nerve which allowed me to modulate in a few roles which I controlled by having a separate midi channel feeding it information and the hats and cymbals are from D16 Nephton (fed through an amp/cabinet combo). Of course lots of other plugs were used but I think I’ve covered the larger strokes.

Here’s a Track, Here’s How It Was Made

June 13, 2012

Here’s a post I put up on the ableton forum about the making of this track

This track started with the acid riff and the percussion. It actually started with the more crazy, almost random sounding acid line that just had something that I felt stood up. The percussion sounds that glitch through the track are played from xfers nerve which also is triggering the more chaotic acid sound. The nerve then has is repeater effect trigger from my computer keyboard. These repeater triggers are then recorded into another midi track that I could move around. The percussion sound also was effected with a max4live step flanger from the pluggo folder with the tempo set to 90 so the effect combined with the project tempo in such away it wasn’t predicable.

Drum wise I like two schools of thought at the moment. I’ve always been into classic sounding patterns on classic machines like the 808 but I’m also really interested in the post dubstep and garage style just because it’s really inventiveness off the beat grid in terms of swing. After a bit of mucking about I went with the classic pattern which was at around 125bpm at this stage, I latter switched the tempo to 140 and then again to 137 and I made the kick pattern more sparse which also allowed me to open up the decay which I did while listening more to the rest of the track than the kick itself. I found there was a point where the shape of the kick perfectly supported what was going on around it.

I did have a cool subby acidic bass part that played off the acid sound but I reached that familiar point in a track where two sounds I like are pulling in opposite directions. This can be really draining trying to keep everything in and I think it’s made me leave tracks in frustration before, so these days I reckon if you want to get shit done decide which is your least favorite child and pull the trigger (or save the lips to your library for future use). Not having a sub to mix to the 808 made life a bit easier plus it meant I could be reasonably assured everything would sound good and balanced in the lows when the track plays out on a rig.

At this stage I wasn’t sure if the acid line was lacking a sense of being a melody or if I was just sick of hearing it again and again (which I’d also take as a bad sign, even after a few hour of the same loop) so I tried putting some complementary patterns together for it and after saving some interesting but incompatible stuff I found the two patterns that play off the more chaotic one. Finding the right distortion for the acid sound took a lot of time and I changed my mind a lot. I used the Ohmboyz Omicide and I tried the decimator style effects which sounded modern but too digital which made the xoxbox sound like an emulator, the vacuum tubes were good for subtle colour and the ‘broken’ presets which were good for bite. Initially what I wanted was the sort of flowing liquidy acid tones that you hear on EOD’s stuff and I was going to use minimal modulation of the cut-off etc… In the end I made my own Omicide settings with the best qualities of all the ones I tried and I kept the dry/wet low and mapped it to a rack macro so I could manipulate it when I recorded the synth setting modulations which were recorded live as the xoxbox doesn’t have midi control of parameters and it always sounds better that way anyway, at least it does if you like a rawer vibe. I recorded this on a separate channel from the sound card input without any of the effects that I used for tone, so I could flexibly change that aspect latter. Third take I was happy. I put a fast chorus after the Omicide as an experiment and tweaking the settings I was reminded of lots of different acid tracks so the chorus was a win. The referenced EOD acid sound went out the window as I went for something a little harder with more bite.

In the returns I had a reverb mainly fed from the snare for a nearly Joy Division – Decades style feel to it. I also used a spring reverb and a dubstation delay with a single repeat with no feedback.

The synth sound at the start of the track that comes in and out is from the korg monopoly vst. The sound has a fully open filter to contrast with the acid and uses the x-mod feature modulated with and lfo and the result is fed into another dubstation. The other blips are from an operator preset by CK that was shared on this forum. The low droning sound is from the latest detunized live pack

Squarepusher, some guy on Pitchfork talking bollox and gear porn

April 19, 2012

A couple of weeks ago in an effort to find something interesting to listen to while driving around, swearing at slow drivers and fast traffic lights, I dug out Squarepushers Burning ‘N Tree album, a collection of early break the tracks on his own Spy Mania label. I was always full of respect but never a big fan. Three or so listens in and I started getting deeper and deeper into it (listen here or below), I ended up listening to it a few dozen times, the jazzy elements drawing me in and the drum edits gave up new details each time round. I had been put off Squarepusher by the Go Plastic  album. I found it so cold, dense and abrasive that even after repeated listens is all just meshed together in my mind as a rather colourless smudge, much like the albums cover. Maybe my listening tastes have changed over the years or I just dwelt on the wrong album because lately  SP is some of the only music that can maintain my attention during active listening, where music is the sole focus.

Not actively listening to music isn’t a sin or anything, it can give context or make fluffy think piece blog posts more substantial, don’t just take my word for it

What happens increasingly when I try to actively listen to music, screening out the rest of the world rather than having it on in the background while I do something else, is I become bored  by track three and instead I switch to working on my own music or working on a live set or devices. Not that this has been terribly productive apart from my live set work and God knows where that’s going. I’m not happy about this as my attention span used to be much better for these solo music head adventures. I got hold of Ultra-visitor (Link) and was blown away, like much of his material, it takes in the jazz influences some similar to what I’ve been dipping my toes into in recent years. Now I haven’t listened to anything too obscure, jazz wise, but I’m starting to appreciate the language a bit more so I find myself getting as much pleasure from the jazzy sections as the sonic manipulation parts. Any recommendations anyone can make to further my jazz education would be appreciated. Just as long as it’s not too arcane or some exercise in mental masturbation. Which I’m sure is an accusation plenty people have leveled against SP. Isn’t it true anyone doing anything different and  interesting, especially if it’s directly challenging, is going to attract people who will assume the worst of the creators intentions?
Take for example the pitchfork review of Ultra-visitor . The reviewer seems to delight in picking apart the man behind the music and his motivations while slipping in backhanded compliments to cover his ass. You should read the review, it seems to be more about the reviewer reinforcing his own credentials as if by criticising an artist as anointed as Squarepusher he is somehow elevating himself above him. Contrast that review with this great piece written in Stylus Magazine which captures very well the joy the reviewer had in listening to the album.
Also interestingly while tapping round the Internet scouring for all things SP I came across this article in Sound on Sound. This is very open and revealing piece going into some of his studio technique and has lots of pictures of where he has put his music together for the last 10 years or so (such as the image up above I won’t feature more as that would be too cheeky). He also talks, among other things, about the bias against excellent instrument players within electronic music that he perceived earlier in his career and how he pretended his dad was a jazz drummer just to justify the fact that he himself is one of the most technically proficient bass players in the world. I haven’t gotten around to checking out his latest works yet it seems I have a lot of catching up to do. I don’t mind slowly working my way through his back catalogue some missed and some misjudged. I given up all notions of remaining current there is far too much good music out there to get obsessed about regardless of release dates and whatever form the current electronic music arms race has taken.

Review: Brandon Spivey: Past.Present.Future

March 27, 2012

BS Vinyl Image

Released last summer on a new imprint called Phase Distortion Records Brandon Spivey Past Present and Future features some of my favorite tracks from last year. It’s a nine track album, cut loud, on clear vinyl. It’s Brandon’s first release since the late nineties previous to that he released several fucked up hard acid classics that melted minds globally. He originally came to my attention when I was trying to track down the details of this classic  from an old Spiral Tribe mix. I was delighted when the very man I approached on Discogs regarding buying the track, linked above, mentioned they were releasing new material by BS themselves that very summer.

Holy coincidence Batman!

I pre-ordered and when it arrived I wasn’t disappointed. Here Brandon is showcasing a diverse selection of tempos centered around warm but tough,meaty analogue sound. These Ninties acid guys know how to work a synth line that communicates with your subconscious in ways that are expressive beyond the ‘up, up, up, mental!, mental!’ stuff, although that’s here as well, this is proper stuff that manages to be mediative while at the same time rewiring your brain.

Beyond the casual listener lovers of proper electro would do well to check this out for the tight drums sounds of Phase Distortion and Audio Deviants and the harder tekno people should really check out Acid Music, Coma Music and Post Industrial. There’s also Rough Cut Acid which is exactly what it says it is and BS production values are literally spelt out with the track No Softsynths, Strictly Hardware although the track wasn’t one of the ones that worked best for me. The album also has more expansive, slower tracks like Trans-Pennine and, the beautiful, Instinctual both of which show BS can do delicate as well as powerful synths. It’s in these slower tracks you can more clearly make out the almost eighties signature to some of the sounds which fits in quiet well with modern tastes that enjoy the likes of Com Truise and the like. That shouldn’t be surprising seeing as were talking about an album made by getting the most out of gear that has that eighties Roland sound which is a corner stone of electronic music. That’s enough out of me check out the samples on the Phase Distortion website and let’s hope we hear more from this label and this artist. (available from the label site and on Toolbox and Juno)


October 14, 2011

This will be a very short post about an excellent website I just came across called

So far I’ve read Show me the money, Music in the Digital Age Part 1 which was excellent. What i really liked about the site (blog?) is it deals with areas such as personal commitment to the creative process and other areas of the bigger picture with quality writting. Also it has links to several other great sites, within it’s articles, which I hadn’t heard of before like where I found a wealth of interesting ideas about all aspects of self driven creativity.

I’m as much making this post as a guaranteed reminder to myself of the sites existence as to give others a heads up.

C90 to Detroit via Kilmeaden

October 8, 2011

DJ mixes come and go but some are for life and some can change the way you think about music. A couple of milestones spring to mind. The Spiral Tribe tapes, Laurent Garnier – Essential Mix June 1994, Jeff Mills – Live at The Liquid Room, Dave Clarke – Electroboogie Part 1, Andrew Weatherall – Electric Caravan, Kode 9’s mix for Go Magazine, Youngsta – Dubstep Allstars Vol 2,   all were important to me back in their time as I imagine they were to a lot of people.

However there were a couple of lesser known mixes that I listen to again and again that seem to improve the more I hear them. First among these was a tape recorded in the late nineties by a then local DJ Paul Smith, now producing quality techno for Detroit label Sistrum as Leonid and is based in Spain.

It’s a vinyl, recorded to a 45mins a side cassette tape, mix recorded at home and I’m not sure how many people have a copy. Paul doesn’t remember the mix himself. The music is  Detroit techno and electro with Carl Craig and Drexcyia being well represented. The mixing itself is a masterclass in restraint with tracks frequently being left play for their full duration (which can only work when you have tracks that are good enough). Tracks glide into each other with zen-like ease that ensure the listeners head space is never disrupted. It’s the complete opposite of the kind of live effecting and re-editing that goes on in my own current digital mixing and there is plenty of vinyl technique on display with two copies of the same track, one a quarter beat behind, being mixed together and scratched on occasion. This was my real introduction to the deeper soulful sound of Detroit and in particular Drexcyia and it still stands out to me today as the finest mix of those artists that I’ve come across. The music is sometimes tough, sometimes fragile and soulful throughout. Enjoy the C90 tape warmth and a wealth of classics.

Here’s a direct download link

Paul Smith Detroit Mix