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November 2009

There’s simply too much house, techno, dubstep, downtempo, electro, ambient, and whatever the hell else they’re calling it all this week (Special 12-Inch Remix Dub Edit, of course) for even the full-time culture geeks at The A.V. Club to make sense of. So every month, we’re letting resident freelance beat-head Michaelangelo Matos sift through the teeming, overproductive world of post-rave electronic music to try and sort it all out. Beat Connection will attempt to keep on top of the albums, EPs, DJ mixes, and compilations competing for the attention of the glazed-eyed wannabe-androids who dance to it, if only in their own heads. 

BOUNCE, BOUNCE, BOUNCE. Cologne, Germany’s Riley Reinhold may have the most reliable ears in techno. His labels, My Best Friend, Traum Schallplatten, and Trapez, all issue consistently excellent material, with the latter specializing in stripped-down 12-inches that he’s also compiled into a half-dozen vibrant DJ mixes—the Selection series—blended under the alias Triple R. This year, Reinhold foregoes a seventh Selection in favor of Trapez 100 (Trapez), an unmixed 11-track sampler platter of vinyl favorites and exclusive new material that hangs together beautifully. Trapez sets its sights on the dance floor, but as 100 demonstrates, the hard 4/4 kick is an ideal setting for some of the field’s most playful sound manipulation. That means everything from the in-and-out hard synth buzz of Dominik Eulberg’s near-trance “Ambivalent” to the constantly shifting combinations of gurgling percussion, bells, toy piano, and clackety beats of Gabriel Ananda’s “Afu 3.” Reinhold’s own “Fox In The Box,” recorded as UND and included in remixed form by Christian Martin, is giddiest of all, thanks to its zooming, serrated bass.

LIE DOWN AND BE COUNTED. Lawrence, the nom du disque of Peter M. Kersten, made his name with the foggy, drifting house of his 2002 self-titled debut, one of the decade’s subtlest, most durable electronic albums. His work has gotten clearer and more focused but no less playful, as Until Then, Goodbye (Mule Electronic) demonstrates. Lawrence can be slight: Cuts like “Miles” and “Don’t Follow Me” are so subtle, they threaten to disappear, even when you listen closely. But the best tracks are simultaneously airy and weighty: Heaving tom-toms anchor the gamelan-like “Father Umbrillo,” “Jill” sinks in thanks in part to snaking hi-hats that hark back to early Detroit techno (think Derrick May’s ’80s work) as well as a plangent melody, and “Todenhausen Blues” arranges chimes see-sawing hand percussion behind a lonesome-sailor melodica line. 

IT’S A JAZZ THING. When people talk about the parallels between jazz and techno, they tend to refer to the funky, electronics-infused work of folks like Herbie Hancock. But last year, Marco Donato and Federico Marton, the two Italy-born Londoners who make up Italoboyz, went further back, licensing a hefty sample of John Coltrane’s “Bahia” and folding it into a patiently unfolding dance track that’s utterly techno while keeping its source material completely recognizable. “Bahia” isn’t the only highlight of the impressive Bla Bla Bla (Mothership), either: These guys know how to do gradually shifting repetition right, as when they loop a woman saying “I don’t speak Chinese” into a mantra that skirts annoying without going over, or build a smoky backdrop for a sly sax solo on “Edo Breiss.” 

BLASTS FROM THE PAST: Techno prides itself on its futurism, but Robert Hood’s Minimal Nation, released in 1994 and just reissued by M-Plant, mapped the last decade and a half in a particularly acute manner. Originally eight tracks on two pieces of vinyl with each track ending in a locked groove, Minimal Nation steered the music into a more streamlined path than even Hood’s prior group, the fearsome Underground Resistance. The album still sounds rough and ready, not to mention playful: Tracks like “Rhythm Of Vision” (presented here in two versions), “Ride,” and “Sleep Cycle” are rubbery, hypnotic, and sharp all at once, and they make a whole lot of what post-dated them seem less minimal than emaciated. And the two add-ons, “Self-Powered” and the previously unissued “SH-101,” are as strong as the tracks from the original album. 

Two fine new double-CD label compilations also look back. Warp20 (Chosen) (Warp) is split between the 10 most beloved songs from the legendary Sheffield imprint’s 20-years-strong catalog (as chosen by fans online: The longer list is available on the site plus a 14-track selection picked by label co-founder Steve Beckett. The first showcases Warp’s semi-pop side, the second its more overtly cultish one, and both are terrific introductions or recaps, depending on how far back you go with them. “5”: The 5th Anniversary Compilation Of Hyperdub Records (Hyperdub), on the other hand, looks adamantly forward even as it pauses to reflect on half a decade of London’s dubstep leader—and maybe the best dance label of the latter ’00s, period. The second disc is a superb best-of, but the real action is with the brilliant new titles on disc one. Most of the attention has gone to “Fostercare,” the new track by the semi-mysterious Burial, but the real killers are Darkstar’s “Aidy’s Girl Is a Computer,” featuring a mangled-robot vocal that might be the most poignant thing the label has released, and LD’s “Shake It,” which does just that, hard. 

ON THE WEB: The Internet teems with DJ sets, many good, all turning over at a rapid clip, but I still often play two from September I. Since June, Chicago DJ-producer Chrissy Murderbot has put up a new mix every week on the superb blog My Year Of Mixtapes. The one I love most so far is Belgian Rave, 1991, a 27-track selection from the brief period when the Lowlands were the most happening spot on the electronic-music map. Human Resource’s “Dominator” (here in Frank De Wulf’s remix), The Outlander’s “Vamp,” and Praga Khan’s “Rave Alarm” still roast most contemporary Ed Banger-style blog-house to a crisp. 

For something a little more up-to-date, seek out Modeselektor’s RA Podcast 173. It’s no longer live on its host site, Resident Advisor (though it still has the track list), but a quick Google will locate it. Modeselektor—Berlin duo Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary—are gaining a name for wildly eclectic DJ-mix CDs like the fine new Body Language Vol. 08 on Get Physical. RA.173 sticks closer to recent post-dubstep from the likes of Zomby, Untold remixed by Roska, Lil Silva, and, climaxing things properly, Joy Orbison’s instant-classic “Hyph Mngo,” which I heard three times at the six events I attended at this year’s Decibel Festival in Seattle. There’s even a brief appearance of Second Phase’s 1991 anthem “Mentasm,” the track that basically birthed the Belgian sound of the Murderbot mix. And I mean brief: The squiggly riff comes in, then crashes to the ground via a well-timed turntable switch-off. The message: Look back, sure, but keep moving forward.