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New Records : April 2023
Aquatic Argentinian Italo, Intergenerational Aussie Breaks and Deutsch DIY
It’s been a minute since the spirit moved me enough to write a New Releases piece. The beginning of 2023 was pretty slow on the wax front. Daily RedEye surfing became hard labor without much return. But March and April have landed several heaters on my radar and grip torpedos are again launching in frequent salvos. You’ll notice this month’s edition is titled ‘New Records’ as I totally squash any illusions of keeping up with digital music. For the DL on downloads, I’ll leave you in the much more capable hands of Joe Delon / Welt Discos, First Floor and Phil Sherberne’s new Substack, Futurism Restated.
2 Lost Diver - The Mystery Island [Calypso’s Dream]
Italo / ‘80s
Piggybacking off the intro: it occurs to me that following new music is very much like the blind men describing an elephant to each other. The one who touched the trunk says it’s a giant vine, the one who felt the leg says it’s a tree etc etc. We are all likewise limited in our perception of the totality of the current musical moment by the sheer mass of new releases and where we choose to observe them from. So when Shawn Reynaldo wrote a piece about the “Latin Music Gold Rush”, my first reaction was a mental ‘wtf is he talking about’. But I’m sure Shawn receives many more promos than I do and is clearly looking at dance music from a different vantage point. Plus, Shawn’s bona fides are very much intact, so I believe him despite still not having a clue as to wtf he’s talking about.
I’ve made my own assertion that Italo is an ascendent sound (and have added juice to this notion by releasing an Italo-indebted record by irl Italians). Italo’s influence has never left since the disco / edits craze of the late 2000’s brought it back into the underground, but what’s interesting is its recent incursion into an unlikely circle of tastemakers. I’m referring to the scene of vinyl-loving, deep-cut jocks, unfortunately and erroneously dubbed ‘Diggers’. At risk of being pedantic: what separates capital-D Diggers from the rest of DJs whomst dig is a nebulous set of signifiers such as embracing records as long as they are sufficiently obscure / rare, playing vinyl-only sets and, most recently, shepherding in the current wave of retro-Progressive Mania that is solidifying into the de facto sound of a huge sector of the global underground.
Idris Bena’s foray into ‘80s nostalgia from last year:
2 Lost Diver’s The Mystery Island feels like an outright affirmation of this scene’s sublimation of Italo. Any why not? Italo House and other SIAE stamped 90’s rarities have been some of the most rinsed and sought-after cuts in recent years. As the dig continues deeper and further back in time, it’s only natural for the ancestral genre of these records to be embraced. Mystery Island is the work of two young producers from Buenos Aires, where, along with Montevideo across the Samborombón Bay, the deep-cut scene has flourished thanks to Nicolas Lutz, DJ Koolt and the Phonotheque club. Bruno, one-half of the Divers, has previously appeared on wax as part of Wobble Boys, a group of Southern Coners (including friend of the ‘stack, Jovit), whose two 12”s embraced Diggerdom’s genre dilettantism with tracks ranging from Acid Techno to Breakbeat and UKG. The noncommittal style hopping goes out the window with the 2 Lost Diver [sic] project. Mystery Island is a record steeped in the sounds and moods of the mid-’80s – and so successfully that one would be forgiven for taking it as the real deal.
The A-side starts with ‘Land in Site’, a downtempo affair that inducts one into the Drexcyia-influenced aquatic retro-realm of 2 Lost Diver. Seagulls caw, waves crash on an uninhabited beach and a reoccurring sonar ping is introduced to drive the nautical theme home. Its synth camp that would soundtrack Snake Plisken’s escape from New York if he pushed off from Manhattan in a motorized dinghy with a baddy in tow.
‘Land in Sight (Siren Voices Mix)’ flips the original into floor-friendly but somber Italo-meets-SynthPop with a structure and mood that suggests the presence of a ghostly vocal track that was never recorded. Lead hooks exchange places with dreamy nostalgic pads that makes for a unique blend of Meditterano dance and New Romanticism.
The by-now-established sound of 2LD continues on the flip with ‘Canción Para Las Sirenas’ and ‘Dancing With Mermaids’. Strangely, the heat lies on the B2 with ‘Dancing’, where 2LD marry their Italo synthphilia with tasteful Trance’s affinity for arpeggiation. It sounds like 1983 meets 1993 which (somehow) equals 2023, pulled off with enough skill and ambiguity to obscure its place on the timeline.
For me, Mystery Island is emblematic of a fascinating shift currently underway. The historically mnml-inclined and (deeply) heterosexual record-junkie scene has already embraced the flamboyant sounds of 90’s Italian House, Trance and Prog but – continuing to dig further back in time – is now flirting with a head-on collision with sleazy Italo, Synth Pop and ‘80s House, the perennial home of gay underground staples like Mike Servito, Daniel Wang, and Cocktail D’Amore. Does this portend a melding of the clans? Probably not. But it would be hilarious to see Jeffrey Sfire on a Sunwaves poster.
Boo-Boo, Mace & Nutcase - Digital Rubber EP [Linale Records]
Techno / Breaks
Boo-Boo, Mace & Nutcase are the trio of ‘90s Aussie prog dudes Andy Rantzen, Anthony Maher and Paul McDermott who, despite their prolific output beyond the BBM&N project, only released one CD single, 1997’s Gotta Move On. Upstart label, Linale Records tapped the track ‘Digital Rubber’ along with ‘Hejaz’ (off another Boo Boo & Mace (no Nutcase) CD single) for reissue as their second release. Andy Rantzen has been an exciting name as of late after a slew of deep, tripping EPs and last years excellent psycho-spiritual acid LP, Return to the Source. Add a remix from new school Aussie and my personal man of the moment, Rudolf C., and this one becomes a Must Grip. Rudy’s Globular EP got some PT love upon its release and my copy is still dutifully leaning next to the decks with no sign of being filed away anytime soon.
The original mix of Digital Rubber is the variety of over-the-top West Coast breaks that have been much glommed onto in recent years (see: Bassex, Exist Dance, Freaky Chakra’s less restrained moments). Not quite my bag, but Rudolf C’s remix delivers the goods. He flips the original into a bubblin’, broken, noodly roller that is now a style unmistakably his own.
After 2022’s Totally Refracted EP, it would be easy to lump my man in with the rest of the retro-leaning Prog movement. But that would be a lazy and gross mischaracterization of his recent work. In the Digital Rubber remix there’s elements of Bleep, loopy Hardcore rhythms and a hi-tek edge that makes his productions punch a weight class or two above most of the energetic / phrenetic floor-oriented 12”s being released. While many Prog movers and groovers are content with essentially remaking ‘90s records, Rudy uses tropes of genres past in the service of making something new and truly progressive. Like his music in general, the Rubber Band remix is teeming with ideas and is constantly in motion, propelling itself into new zones and motifs, never treading over the same territory twice. A refreshing change of pace amongst the many plodding, loop-based productions that simply cycle slight variations of the same uninteresting idea.
The flip houses ‘Hejaz’, a deeper and headier take on Aussie breakbeat which employs that amorphous blend of non-Western instrumentation and scales that led many a ‘90s record to be unfortunately filed away as New Age. Hejaz does the thing and would certainly find a home on sparse dancefloors where atmospherics and reverb so perfectly fill the spaces that bodies have yet to occupy.
Active Nature - Freesome [Momentaufnahmen]
House / Techno / Electro
A little inside scoop for the uninitiated: the vinyl industry (as far as is pertains to our subsect of music) is unwell. Production costs are up 40% since 2020, retail prices are at an all time high and sales…aren’t great, to put it kindly. A major player in the production and distribution of wax recently told me 90% of records lose money. When asked if starting a new label in the current landscape was “sane” in a recent email, I squarely advised “no”. Times are tough and previously winning formulas for releasing a record are now losers. This is what makes Active Nature’s debut record a resounding success and gives me hope that the top-to-bottom DIY approach is still viable.
Freesome is the work of Berliner, Pascal Stuermer who I can’t seem to find much on besides the fact he runs a substack to house Existentialist essays and tracklists for his online mixes. After a brief glance, it seems we have a lot in common (Oespensky, reincarnation, Minimal Man’s Coyote Flux) and I look forward to reading his long form pieces after I wrap up this one. Anywho, Freesome was written, produced and designed by Pascal, resulting in a record that feels refreshingly DIY – and not in the L.I.E.S. sense. Rather, it seems the product of someone following their own whims, beholden only to their own creative impulses and studio limitations. I don’t know if Pascal is new to production or not, but there is a quality of what Buddhists call “beginners’ mind” throughout the record. Tracks are simple, unfurl quickly and naturally with effortlessness flow. The lead track ‘Pukka’ would be a ponderous and boring production in the hands of many producers, but Pascal gets right down to business and doesn’t overextend the tracks welcome. It comes in, does its thing and leaves while the charm is still fresh.
‘Hubba Hubba’ shifts gears with a sprung but restrained (and quite fun) take on broken machine funk. Definitely the bumpiest cut of the bunch, it’s the star of an EP otherwise packed with understated tools.
The meditative loopzone hypnosis of Pukka returns on the flip with ‘Twone’ and ‘Happy Ending’. The former gets the upperhand with a freaky gurgling bassline and ‘verbed out atmosphere.
Freesome is appealling on another level. It’s a sonic and, seemingly, financial success (I think I bought the repress) but its tracks are simple enough to seem within the abilities of a novice producer like myself. Listening to the record has me envisioning Pascal grooving out on a spartan studio setup, whipping up compelling tracks whose structures and production methods I can understand and, therefore, see myself capable of making. There are, of course, other ingredients besides know-how. A Zen-like quality runs through Freesome that brings to mind the bare simplicity but totally inimitable genius of early Baby Ford and Thomas Melchior productions. I’m guessing there’s a bit of the Soul Capsule sauce in Pascal’s soup based on the record’s notes:
"In memory of Paul and Peter. Each incarnation is a mountain that we must climb. Thanks to all souls on board."
Perhaps a little René Daumal and Herman Hesse as well. Freesome can be had digitally from the Momentaufnahmen Bandcamp.
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