You know it’s been a while since I last did any actual reviews on this blog. Mainly because I’m often too busy running around like an idiot trying to do other things as well. But a few electronic releases have been fluttering out from several Icelandic producers over the last few months, so perhaps (since no one else is really doing it) it should be good to take a bit of stock with what’s goin’ on down in 101 Reykjavik.
THE HOUSE THAT LAGAFFE BUILT…
Whatever Flass FM, Fatboy Slim, or a hundred other publications are telling you, dubstep, Nu-trance, or the ever catchy acronym EDM is not the biggest thing in electronic music right now. In actual fact… it’s house! Yup that’s right, after residing in a quasi-underground position a decade ago, and even though it’s now been around now for so long that it’s become codified in the way that jazz and blues are, house music has come back in a huge way and is now bigger than ever. Clubs, festivals, and the charts are being fed on an ever expanding diet of Seth Troxler, Eats Everything, Disclosure, Julio Bashmore and dozens of other pretenders to the scene. Everywhere you look there’s the recursive feel of cool young things discovering house music for the first time and believing they’re discovering a new untouched sound. Aww, bless ’em!
And in Iceland everyone is also catching onto the House spirit in a big way. One of the local labels trying to tap into this demand are LAGAFFE TALES, run by local DJs/Producers Viktor Birgisson and Jónbjörn Finnbogason. Their aim they say is to “Focus on the Deep House groove that makes us move. We aim to release and support music that makes people dance, although passionately and come together for that good feeling that it brings us.”
They’re top blokes, and their efforts in spurring a focus for house music in Iceland are to be applauded, but after listening to the last couple of releases, I would say that the quality of their output has been a bit patchy to say the least. Take their latest official release, “Feel The Night,” from Anglo-German producer SIGGATUNEZ. The opening track “Through the Night” has a simple hi-hat intro and jazz piano intro, before its tries to build on a simplistic warbling two-note pad riff. But it just feels washed out and rather bland. It fails in its first objective, which is to get you dancing, as there really isn’t much of a groove there. It also fails in being a sit and listen track as there’s not enough in the song to keep your head interested. the second track “I Feel Like A…” tries to up the ante by upping the BPM and the action on the rhythm section with rasping and clunking percussion joining the chippy hi-hats. Meanwhile a floating vocal sample gets chopped, screwed, and slotted in various areas. But again the synth sounds just sound too flat and seem to stagnate, with not enough attack to complement the rhythmic efforts.
Things though are on much surer ground with their other recent release “Long Shot Poems For Broke Players,” by local producer MOFF & TARKIN (Who funnily enough cites an old review I did of him a long ago with the comment “Some douche who did not even bother to notice that I am only one guy.” Ouch!), which remembers the prime directive when it comes to house music – It should make you want to dance.
The self-titled opening track has a simple, direct approach to house, with stabby attacking pads that form the basis for some sturdy piano led classic ’90s style house. It also helps that there’s a bit of friction with his use of vocals samples with some old geezer (Charles Bukowski?) bitching about the people around him. It’s not reinventing the jacking house wheel, but man it´s certainly got a groove thang going on.
Things get even harder on “Talking To Myself,” a hefty piece of deep house that starts off with a thudding kick beat and deep atmospherics, before it really hits with a pulsing, rolling bassline as soul vocals flit in and out of earshot. It definitely has that darkened. underground, smoky. French filter house quality to it, but the overall feel you get is one of being propelled to move, to shake, and more importantly, get a sweat on. I can really picture myself losing it to this in one of weaker moments at Dolly.
CRACKED ICELANDIC EARTH
“You know Bob, I feel that you’re more likely to give a positive review to some obscure techno bands,” said no one I’m going to tell you about a while ago, when we were discussing the finer points of Icelandic music. This caused me go a little bug-eyed and fall off my chair. You see, in the 3 and a half years I’ve been squeezing out bitter notes about the paltry efforts of local musicians, I’ve never seen the Grapevine, or the other Icelandic papers, do any actual reviews of techno music. (And no, Gus Gus does not count!).
In fact to be honest I’ve can’t really recall any out-and-out techno releases of note coming from Iceland for a while. There was a release from Exos last year, which slipped out so quietly it was like a fart in the night. I haven’t had a chance to hear that yet, but most of the local players have been either quiet, or have moved into more “song” based territory (I’m looking at you Yagya).
But over the last few months, there’s been a small flurry of activity from a younger, fresher breed of Icelandic producers that want to bring the tek-tek-tekno back onto our dance-floors in a big way. Spearheading this charge are two fine young gents, LAFONTAINE, and UNTITLED2MUSIC, who have been forging a hive of energy in creating some decidedly dark, blistering techno beats that’s shaking us from our addled floppy house torpor.
In many ways these two share similar strands of techno DNA in their influences, being that they seem to be shying away from the neon gloss of Gus Gus style tech house, or the wide open spaces of Basic-Channel influenced dub techno from the previous generation. Looking up at the above video of a recent DJ set from Lafontaine (As well as one from Untited2Music), they seem to be getting their kicks more from the darker side of the warehouse, the side of the warehouse that has you huffing in lungfuls or dry ice and getting blinded by strobing lighting, while your dodgy chemical intake makes you wobble uncontrollably to artists such as Truss, Perc, AnD, and Rrose. All heaving low-end monotone bass combined with a constant barrage of grumbling earth sounds.
Take “Mescaline,” the latest release from LaFontaine on Aura Mirror. The opening track “Peyote” has that heavy booming bass note chug and four to the floor kick thumps, with whooshing, cracking sounds that fly past your ears. Turn it up loud and it’s kinda like a jet going off. The remix by Captain Fufanu sees them try to turn the track into stuttering electro with tinny hi-hats and hi end toms pinging around a sampled clip from the original track. the musical equivalent of a badly trained monkey eating all your ecstasy.
The second track “Mescaline” is even more cavernous as it rumbles with a low lit, dark ambient throb and creaking, stretched strings before erupting into a full tilt roar that would give Raime a big chubby one. The remix by United2Music meanwhile essentially aims to add more of a swing groove to the proceedings.
As with his remix of “Mescaline,” Untitled2Music’s latest EP, “Spirit Pt 1,” also sees him looking to occupy that same dark meter. But whereas LaFontaine’s music feels more as if it was chiselled in a pressured underground cave, “Spirit Pt 1” has that feel of empty black space, of industrial Sci Fi terror at the edge of some distant mining colony. The tracks “Decase” and “Prototype” have bridge panel alarms going off to distant ambient sounds and burbling bass lines. Meanwhile “Gates Of Hell” and “Mind” have simple cracked open perpetual machine rhythms set to some decidedly grubby drones that remind you a little of Prurient’s recent forays into techno beats.
It worth noting that while both these releases are pretty damn good and, to use the required term, banging, these guys are not quite the finished articles just yet. When listening recently to the recent releases from the likes of Function and Shifted, you can hear them add more depth and texture to their rhythms and bass sounds that just drag you deep into the darkness and eyes closed, fist pumping action. With LaFonatine and unlimited2Music, their music isn’t quite at the level where you could say the tracks “sing” to you. But they have all the fundamental components locked and bolted down, and they certainly have the right attitude when it comes to making and listening to some well proper warehouse techno. I’d expect some good things from these guys in the near future.