FLOPPY-DISK CULTURE #2: EREBUS & TERROR, STREET BIZ, FINNISH MINIMAL TECHNO, ERIKOISDANCE AND OTHER DIVERSIONS
Floppy Disk Culture: an occasional series.
I've mentioned Erebus & Terror and Street Biz before: their floppy-fuelled recreations of 90's 'Ardkore culture brought much pleasure into my embittered little life last year. Granulated grit n digital grain, number-crunching jack-hammer drum beats; skritch n skatch n clack n clunk: the sound of society (nay, the universe) collapsing in on itself under the weight of Dark Matter Kapitalism...the floppy-disks are even better than the MySpace mp3 posts, I reckon: they're in mono fer fucksake, compressed and squashed to fuck; trashed to the max. Listen to those snares and rim-shots and the pitched-up samples; it's a fucking Gabba Orgy - jump on board, babeeee! How's it possible to get so many tracks on two floppy-disks? This music even defies the fuckin' Laws of Fiziks.
The music comes courtesy of m'man Tom Backström from Helsinki and his mate Christer. He told me:
"I think 'Ardkore never was as big in Finland as in some other countries. I remember you could see some fliers of parties now and then, and C-Tank, Ultraviolence and the other "big names" were even played on the national radio (in dance-music programs in the middle of the night of course). A bit later, when Hardcore had gone mainstream Thunderdome compilations were heard booming out of the windows of passing-by teenagers' cars.
"I don't really know if there ever was a scene here - I guess my musical taste at the time was for other stuff than that. But I can't remember ever hearing of any Finnish Gabber releases at least. Both me and Christer are fans of, and listen to such a wide variety of music, that what we do (play or program) usually isn't as "genre loyal" as the Gabber floppies. The idea to do those was concieved when listening to C-Tanks "Nightmares are Reality II" at Christers place, having a few beers after the sauna. We then decided to both try to do some tracks of as "true" HC as we ever could, and gave the project strict rules to follow: like not allowing ourselves to use anything analog that wasn't at least sampled into something digital first."
Since then, I've corresponded with Tom off n on, talking about grown-up stuff like Lee Hazlewood and Klaus Nomi. Tom's also been recording as Erikoismies on Erikoisdance for some time now.
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Kinda quietly terrified by the ease at which my bloging cohorts are 'getting back into Techno' (or, more likely, never really ever got out of it in the first place lol - 'course, Nick's always been there, chewing away at its edges, irregardless of bloggafashion et-cetera)...but I just can't bring myself to engage; it just seems so...oh, I dunno...some of it I like, but it just felt like getting back on a roundabout that I was more than happy to get off back in the mid-90s...the whole Kompakt thing left me, nnnnn, cold, I guess...Minimal: hmmmm...it just felt like I was going back to something that I'd already seen too much of...old dog n all that...I love the way that Peverelist, Skull Disco, Kode9 and a few others've twisted n fused it into some cunning new shapes, dunking it in Dubstep and dusting it w/ 4th World Ethnopecussadelic flavors: MicroStep even felt like a possible way to go for a while w/ its delicately-edited echotextures n Dusseldorf references, but, call me an old cuss-pot, but I just didn't feel like hopscotching all the way down thru 7, 8, 9...10! Too overfamiliar to me or something...
And am I alone in finding Villalobos a bit, errrm, pretentious: the skinny rollerneck sweaters and the 3-day stubble and white-washed studios with carefully placed art-books - it all feels like some sort of magazine life-style extension thing, rather than bugging-out w/ joyous abandonment to some barking-mad beats...so, maybe I do like some of it (there's that phrase again), but there's an unpleasant Muso Stench sticking to some of this, like shit to a shoe: (apologies to Doppelganger, cos I've used this metaphor before in an email or a comment or something, but) Villalobos' 30 minute+ post-tribal workouts might be stripped-back and less cluttered (or pseudo-symphonic) than some of his 90s Prog-House forbearers, but they stretch out along the x-axis instead...in a way that suggests a grand Sven Vath-like whiff of self-importance: "Hey, shut up and listen to me - this music's got something really big and important to say...!" Or maybe I'm just not taking the right drugs: "Yeah - fuck off, grandad - this is young people's music..."
Well, okay, so maybe I do like some of it. But not much. (Grumble, grumble.)
Robert Hood is often credited as being the godfather of Minimal with his '93 "Minimal Nation" EP, but surely the Finnish Sähkö crew should get more props for their early 90s releases - '93's 'Röntgen' EP was a ground-breaking Minimal record and a prime example of parallel musical evolution...In an old interview Sähkö's Tommi Grönlund said: "...It comes down to Hard Wax. I got the first Basic Channel from Hell (who was then working at the shop like everybody else seemed to at the time!)... Actually, I swapped two boxes of "Röntgen" for other records at Hard Wax. Sure, there was undoubtedly something in the air (that year) that made that sort of music emerge and succeed - the rave sound had come very popular and DJs were seeking for something "opposite". "
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Erikoisdance #6: "POLY-T - COMPLETE WORKS"
The logo kinda reminds me of the early Mute logo...
My favourite tracks on this are the last two..."Schweinfurt Green" is a gert fuck-off space-hopper of a riddim, sculpted from flangenoise and corset-tight nth-of-a-second delay, but it's somehow breathlessly off-balance as it lurges and bounces up n down the garden with a cartoon smile on its huge orange face ((something remarkable happened while I was writing this: me two kids, aged 4 and 7, came running in from a friend's party, armed with party-tooters, yelling "Parrrrrrty in Dad's den!", then start screaming and whooping and pulling the most ridiculous body shapes you could imagine, glee-filled and oblivious to the fact they're dancing to pure abstract rhythm...
"Yeah - fuck off, grandad - this is young people's music..."
Kid Kid Shirt in a pink t-top that reads: "Love, Peace, Party!" Yeah, we're the new generation and we've got something to say! Kid KId Kid Shirt produces a Barbi stop-watch (eh?) and times the beats, yelling "STOOOOOP!" and "GOOOOO!" at random intervals that seem to perfectly co-incide w/ the beats back-flipping or suddenly spinning on their axes, like the best MC ever, while Big Sister spazzs out and screams so loudly that the neighbours appear in the garden, craning their neck to see what the fuck's going on. ))
"87:an" is "Schweinfurt Green"'s little brother: clunky and gawky and faintly ridiculous: a stone lid being removed from a medieval sewer again and again and again...some hi-hats and squeaking noises join in, then the track back-flips and a boomy big bass-drum joins in with a different gang of squeaky noises...it's pure rhythmic genius. 'Course, all you clever-clogs Techno-bods have heard stuff like this years ago...in fact, I probably already have some records and CD-rs that sound like this (a bit), but I just wasn't in the mood any more.
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Erikoisdance #7: "STEREO BALANCE IN THE THYTHM PART - 7 RECORDINGS BY NON_BARYONIC FORM"
The sleeve-notes to this particularly caught my eye, name-checking "...post-Irdial freeform House, Drum Machine Music, etc...). Again, Tom's saved the best for last:
In particular: Track 6 with its solemn, lurching bass-bips, plunks and rubber-hammer rim-shots and micro-injections of sad animal-sounding android strings. And, yeah, Track 7 is really lovely: a total Irdial flashback: slappy-sounding claps, hissing hats tracking a spongey kick-drum while rolling acidic blurps duke it out with a timid square-wave synth...it sounds vaguely mid-90s-ish yet uncannily fresh too. Oddly timeless, in fact. How can that be?
There's actually 8 tracks on the CD - the 8th being a short, bloopy faux-games-console reprise/rmx of track 7. Worra joker, that Tom - lol!
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Erikoisdance #8: "DIABOLUS IN MUSICA"
Well, you all know about Diabolus in Musica, I'm sure: banned medieval tritones n all that- I first encountered this concept when I heard a Foetus twelve back in the 80s...I love the way that Tom has made a bold but unlikely (imaginary?) connection between Techno and medievalism/superstition/demonology - the two seem impossible bed-fellows, don't they? One shiney, gleaming, cold and futuristic; the other grimey, archaic, irrational and splattered in mud n ignorance. It's a fabulous conceit and I take my hat off to Tom...I couldn't think of any ancestral form for the alliance he was proposing, until I heard Track 3 with its stodgy, pre-taped sounding drums and crunching Numanoid claps, and the growling-yet-whining Korg/Roland System 100M synths that were almost reminiscent of Sheffield/late 70s/early League...
And then I remembered "Almost Medieval" from "Reproduction":
"There's something in your soul that makes me feel so old
In fact I think I've died about six hundred times
There's less of me now and more of me then
I'm moving back to the age of men
Jump off the tarmac, theres no stage-coach speed-limit
Outside the office hangs the man on the gibbet
Soft lenses, grow to glasses
Small world, dimly seen through cataracts
Your program, newspaper
So they say
Rumour spread by word-of-mouth,
jump onto the escalator
Press the button on the lift, raise the dust on old stair-carpets
Endless treads like waves of regret
Now it seems I'm going madder
Falling off this rotting ladder
There's something in your soul that makes me feel so old
In fact I think I've died about six hundred times
There's less of me now and more of me then
I'm moving back to the age of men."
The underlying concept for Diabolus in Musica seems to be that every track is either running backwards or has elements that are runing backwards (ditto: the reversed text on the cover) - I think Tom might be referencing the concept of 'backwards masking' here, certainly in terms of so-called 80s 'Satanic' Metal...remember all the furor about that, fellow Old People? - questions in the House, the Washington Wives...funny how the whole censorship thing in music (and video nasties!) suddenly came to a head as the Thatcher/Regan alliance turned politics rightwards on its axis in the 80s...so backwards-masking becomes, itself, a metaphor for concealment, for self-censureship...
But I've been daydreaming/fantasising about how Medieval Techno might sound all week now.
Must. Get. A. Life.
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Erikoisdance #9: "CDR TRACKS"
Another punning cover: an amino-acid sequence...geddit! "Sequence"... "sequencers"..."acid sequence"...okay, perhaps not...still, wonder what protein that sequence is from...? Googles "Ava Helen Linus Pauling Papers Scientific Negatives 34 slide #9"...oh fuck n wow: It's a 1950's mapped sequence from the human Haemoglobin protein showing - ye Gods! - showing a difference in the 6th amino-acid position for Sickle Cell... okay, Sickle cell Anaemia, if you don't know what it is, is a debilitating inherited blood disease found predominantly in descendents of sub-Saharan Africans - mainly because the mutation that causes it also provides a partial resistance to malaria, so it tended to get carried more commonly even tho it's life-threatening itself...jeez...a nightmare disease...
Yikes: I used to know all this stuff years ago, 'cause I had a background in biochemistry...still remember attending a lecture on Sickle Cell Anaemia and being shown slides of the malformed red blood cells w/ their archetypal crescent shapes - the tertiary structure of the protein folds differently cos it's got a wrong amino acid in it, so it kinda crumples up and doesn't form the typical concave donut shape...and this causes all sorts of physical and metabolic problems...
Okay, depressing diseases aside, I confess this CD is my personal favourite (or maybe I'm getting back into Techno....nah.) The awesomely-titled third track "CDR TRACK III" is utterly fabulous with its stark three-note tone-motif (that summons up sweet, sweet memories of Sweet Exorcist) over clattering tom-toms: it's minimal, but it ain't Minimal, if y'know what I'm sayin'...). It's lovely. "CDR TRACK IV" is like some berserk little electrical animal chasing its tail, trying to lick electro-sparks of glowing shit off its arse, round and round a maypole, pursued by a pitched-down rim-shot impersonating a tom (or is it the other way round?) "CDR TRACK V" tone-checks Irdial tone-checking K/Werk behind spiralling helices of synthsqueal - sounds faintly/lushly Cluster-like too, in some uncanny Old people PoMo way. It's a triff little CD.
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I still don't like Techno.
I used to really be into a lot of House/Techno back in the day and even tho I've still got lots of the records I'm not feeling it much these days...some of my friends and fellow bloggers have got into Minimal Techno and stuff, but I'm really not feeling it much. Can you offer me any advice or support here, Tom?...lol...
TB: "Without the slightest exaggeration: I listen to almost anything! When I buy records nowadays it's mostly electronic stuff, but I really love listening to schlager on the radio as well! Also, my sister gave me her whole record collection to me for my last birthday, so lately I've been digging early AC/DC records a lot.
"She used to be a very active fan club member in the 80's, so the mentioned collection of course includes everything they did up to 1994 or so -- along with several Aussie-only releases of the first albums with that beautiful original cover artwork. Listening to those first records of theirs... it's such wonderful music! Like they took Rock 'n' Roll and let it simmer until it was cooked down to just the most essential, stickiest, meanest, most repetitive, aggressive, euphoric ingredients. And the sound of those recordings is fantastic too! That stuff is really like the Chicago House or Minimal Techno of Rock Music! (And I'm not talking about what the youth call Minimal nowadays, but stuff like Plastikman and Robert Hood.) Pure functionalism! Other rock stuff I've been into lately: Japanese Death Metal outfit Coffins. Have you heard them? ("oh, Yes! - Kek)
"I sort of missed the point with DM back when it all started. Tried to listen to a little Carcass and such in my earlest 20's, but never really learned to like anything but those Doom-style intros of theirs... I guess the real headbangers would call Coffins a retro-band, but for me they're a great new thing -- the band that made DM work for me! The riffs are really catchy and it's all played at a sort of "mid-Motorhead-pace" with great sludgy sounds.
"Right now I'm listening to some Russian Euro-Dance, from a guy's Mac whom I share my working space with. Much better than European Euro-Dance really -- heavy on schlager-like melodies, electric guitar samples and even more bass! Not my speciality at all really... but interesting stuff this too. "
Of course, some of the first Minimal Techno came from Finland - I'm thinking of Sahnko, etc...I was wondering if you feel part of a Finnish electronic music tradition, or if you're just off on yr own journey adrift from other stuff...
TB: "Hmm, naah... I couldn't really come up with ANY tradition I feel part of really! But I can't say I feel adrift either. I've got a bunch of friends who do electronics like me, and whom I play in bands with -- and that's the only social thing I need/want out of music really. I can't say I ever wanted to be part of any "scene" or anything like that -- or tradition. I used to listen to a lot of electronics at the time when Sahko "emerged", and always thought what they did was cool, but I'm ashamed to say I never heard that much of it, and don't own more than maybe 3-5 of their releases. Back in the 90's I mostly just heard that stuff on John Peel's show on Finnish national radio!
"I personally try to stay as far as possible from computers when I do music. For the simple reason that I use one at work all day, and just don't want spend my spare time with those things too. But yeah, I do some of the programming on an old Atari ST, mostly using freeware stuff: arpeggiators and simple step-sequencers. People did some really cool freeware things for that machine! And I do most of the recording straight onto my Mac... plus some editing. But 98.5% or so of the process is all hardware. I really have no interest in using "real" contemporary audio software. And I'm quite sure I wouldn't even learn how to -- I'm really bad with machines really. They stop working when I enter the room! It must be my aura or something... or maybe a curse. Could that be the reason I never really became an actual gearfreak of the worst kind too? Most of my instruments were given to me by friends who didn't need them anymore actually."
I loved your mention of "Drum Machine Music" - what a great idea for a genre! - I think you might like some of the Bedouin Ascent stuff...you've got me thinking now if there's some other drum-machine composers...Ikue Mori comes to mind....but after that, I'm struggling...lol...
TB: "Hey you know what, I remembered from where that name was familiar to me! I bought some Rising High compilations back in the 90's, probably because of Wagon Christ tracks on them, and I'm quite sure Bedouin Ascent must have been on those too. Maybe I'll dig those out at home today and have listen. Mori sounds vaguelly familiar too, but I can't place where I heard that name right now... maybe I'll have check her work too. So thanks! Jamal Moss did a series of 7 inches done entirely on drum machines. Or at least sounding like that. And of course if you look at the whole history of electronic dance music and how important the rhythm naturally is...
"Maybe techno would have been there without synthesizers, but not without drum machines, that's for sure! If it wasn't for them we would all still be listening to German New Age crap! Ha ha. (No disrespect for that stuff though. I like some of that a lot too.) And they're totally good tools for much more than just doing rhythms with too. They're not that "rigid" or limited boxes at all really: Just by running random patterns from MIDI drum boxes into synths you can get wonderfull patterns! I've recorded some tracks where everything that could be called "melody" is all programmed on drum-machines in this random, automated manner. Check "Ahtojaa", for example. I think you've got it - it's on one of the CDr's you've got, and it's in my mySpace player too"
Yeah, I like the covers of yr CD-rs....I like the designs of them, how you've integrated 'techy' stuff or rhythm schematics/etc into a design - it works really well, I think...
TB: "Thanks. In some cases that has been sort of a way of "giving credit to the technology" too: using operation manual graphics for the sleeves."
I still don't like Techno. But I like Tom's stuff.
You can get it here:
Ektro Records web store
From the Myymälä 2 gallery shop, Uudenmaankatu 23, 00100 Helsinki
or order a copy by sending Tom a message via the myspace page
Ooops: I see I've stretched things out over the x-axis a bit too. But, I swear: I've nothing big or important to say. In fact...
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