Various Artists - IDMEMO - A Future Of Nostalgia Vol 2 (Above Board Projects, 2021)
Prepare yourself for an immersion into a realm where crossroads and curious hearts meet, with the second of two volumes of excellent music that places you right in the middle of the early 90s explosion in European electronica.
Having not been around when Acid house, techno and all the other highly important musical movements hit the world from Chicago and Detroit during the mid to late 80s and early 90s, we can only go off what we read about, listen to, and imagine. Whilst its not coming from a place of 100% understanding, its safe for us to assume that for many during this time period, micro evolutions occurred within many minds on a very consistent basis, as a new era of electronic music heralded in a decade filled with euphoria, transcendentalism and experimentation that was on such a scale as to probably not see it ever again. It was a time when many indie heads, rockers and the like found themselves losing it on the dancefloor, where booming acid lines, pulsating piano chords, and future funk would fuel their ecstasy laden nights and make a generation of kids - in the UK at the very least - absolute converts to the sounds of the Windy and Motor Cities. It was groundbreaking stuff at its very core, and for many it was music from a totally different world, championed by a few DJs who have now gone on to achieve iconic statuses in the dance music community, committed to sharing this new music far and wide as the second summer of love and the rave scene flourished under their hypnotic and ultra fresh soundtrack. The first wave bought with it house, techno and disco, and the UK and other places responded, with the country's techno scene forming around the emerging sounds of Bleep, Network Records and the like, and by the turn of the 90s a slew of labels had emerged, with some pushing a new sound entirely - IDM. The sound emerged from the UK as a somewhat downtempo version of early Detroit Techno, with complex rhythmic patterns interwoven with either rich melodics or gritty urban soundscapes, it became a sound that resided very much at home rather than in the club, its compelling and intricate nature one that many found themselves loosing it to with headphones on during quiet reflective winter mornings. The genre had an immediate impact, seeing many labels release timeless compilations that perfectly encapsulate the sound, cementing the genre's significance in dance music history and to this day inspiring countless producers to make their own take on its otherworldly tendencies. Those with perhaps only a limited investment in electronica were now completely hooked, their musical understandings and comprehensions opened up to a flourishing world where everything felt very much within reach, with a number of established music genres equally captivated by the new sounds from the US. It would ultimately lead to an enormous amount of creativity being injected into electronica, where heads and like minded individuals would spend substantial amounts of time listening, learning, then taking what they heard and putting their own personal twist on proceedings. It was a bountiful time indeed, and one that still has a massive power over anyone who comes across the music, who become enraptured with its whimsical presence, its tonally ethereal application, and its spectrum of rhythms and melodies, all wrapped up within scenes, records, producers and mixtapes. We now look back with a joyous smile, enamoured with the sounds of the future today, continually searching and listening to some of the most intriguing music ever conceived by human ears - a gift that keeps on giving, and for certain labels it remains their most entrenched passion.
Certainly a label who cares deeply for the period of electronica's most daring sonic exploits is the London based Above Board Projects, who for some time now have been reissuing compilations of some of the era's most iconic figures and groups. Not content on sticking to one narrative, the label simply revels in giving back over to the contemporary music scene a broad range of styles and sounds that epitomised all that is to be celebrated about the 90s, with genres such as jungle, techno, deep house, drum and bass and breakbeat all represented in their releases. Its not just a mere dip into the pool of distinguished discographies, but full on submergences into back catalogues that come packaged like a story book, written not so long ago but providing the important directions and plot points that make us eager to further our knowledge of the contexts and the emotions injected into the music. A spectrum, if you will, of all these artists look to represent during their initial successes, where experimentation and divulgence was king in achieving the personal pinnacles of musical excellence. Its a way in which we bridge the gaps in time between now and then, merging two worlds through emotional response and musical transcendentalism that have always persisted, yet was soundtracked by different movements and scenes. Many of us didn't grow up or experience these sounds when they first arrived on this planet, but now thanks to labels like Above Board we are able to imagine a near distant past where these tunes swirled around many heads, delighting and showcasing their energies to a transfixed and wide eyed audience. From their works, there is so, so much to highlight, and in fact we think we will touch on it all, to be honest, starting off with the label's first set of releases, 'Diligence' part 1 and 2, which showcase the works of one of European Techno's most enduring and influence figures, Orlando Voorn. The Dutch producer released an absolute shed load of music during the 90s (and still does!), and these two records bring together the very finest cuts from his countless aliases, and the manner in which they flow and ebb is something to behold. After the Voorn records flowed through, the label turned to showcasing the incredible house music pushed by Boston native Dana Kelley, with the 'Guidance is Internal' trilogy showcasing the finest tunes he released under the Callisto alias. One of the second wave of US house producer's most revered talents, the evidence is found in every corner of these records, with movements between simply beautiful deep house balanced with excursions into drum and bass, ambient and techno. Its a journey into the beauty of it all, one which we cannot recommend enough. Next came the four part series, '30 Years of Rage', which reads like a holy book of the tunes that defined the legendary club night founded hosted by DJs Fabio and Grooverider. The four compilations demonstrate the significance in the duo's eclectic mixes that forged the basis of jungle music, with a wide spread of tracks that bring together the Acid House sound that dominated the UK's underground in the late 80s with hard hitting techno, house and breakbeat, all of which contribute to the emergence of Jungle and drum and bass as we know it. Its simply one of the best compilations going, with the duo's mixes here showcasing just why their status as true icons in the UK music scene is set in stone for time infinitum. Finally, the last key reissue from the label was the two part 'Listen Up!' series, which turns the focus towards producer Matthew Benjamin and his beloved Bushwacka! alias. Benjamin certainly carved a name out for himself as a key member of the mid 90s til mid 00s UK underground, with a broad approach to music making that birthed some truly iconic tunes that still sound fresh as hell to this very day. With a scope that includes house, techno, breaks and tech-house, the compilations once again do a brilliant job at giving over to us the very finest of this extraordinary producer's outputs. Every set of records here paints the most compelling of pictures, images that stick out long in the memory when we finish, journeys deep into the midst of time to draw focus to the sheer genius that existed behind all of these mesmerising compilations. The selections are inspired, but when you consider the producers and DJs they are shining a light on, its simply a case of being spoilt for choice and thinking about what tunes are slightly more appropriate than the others, a decision point that ironically must be a lot harder, given the quality of those being highlighted. In this day and age, having collections of tunes like the ones Above Board put together are some of the finest gifts of all, providing memories for those who lived through it during the time, and windows back through time into the past, providing moments to saviour for all involved. We cannot recommend a reissue label enough, so why not take a dip through their works, you won't be disappointed one bit.
And now we turn to the subject of today's review, the second part of the IDEMEMO series, 'A Future of Nostalgia' Volume 2, which follows up from the previous instalment that came out last year. For these records, Above Board asked revered selector Vladimir Ivkovic and composer, producer and DJ Ivan Smagghe to bring together a selection of cuts that reflect the twilight hours, the 5am dream time, the shuffling densities of obscure rhythmic flourishes. IDM remains at the forefront of the record, as Ivkovic and Smagghe weave and web around the fasincation and adoration that circled the genre during the 90s, where the music felt larger than the surrounding context yet strangely human at the same time, the sound containing a otherworldly feel that felt firmly planted in the ground. Its a selection of cuts bought together by two music heads who were profoundly impacted by each and every song found here, moved by its emotion and the memories of the surroundings they found themselves in at the time, the sound of the 'last half-pill at 6am', and us listeners feel every minute of this wondrous journey. So, without further delay, lets dive deep into this enchanting world of pulsating rhythms and delicate mystifying keys......
Up first comes Funckarma and their cut 'Cellular', and it begins with the drums and liquid like keys calling out to us across the tundra. The track evolves on a sonic basis from its initial basis, with fluctuations occurring in the levels and tones of the keys and drums, with the variations subtle, slow moving and teasing in nature. The drums move away for a moment, giving space to the melodic sequences, before coming back into view which invites the keys to multiply and grow in numbers and presence, as they feel their way across the top ends of the cut with purpose and imagination. The track takes another dip just after its climax, with this dip downwards a more extended movement into the mystic energy that underpins the cut, with key lines delicately weaving around each other as our senses are pulled in numerous directions. The drums return once again, and the keys double down in terms of tone and density, showcasing more expressive and obvious flurries that really channel into the consciousness, creating a organic connection to the listener as both grow and experience together. Glorious stuff. Up next comes the legendary Black Dog with their track 'Psil-Cosyin', and this one begins in typically psychedelic surroundings. The loose opening salvo quickly evolves into a simple kick giving foundational support to a wonderful little key line, and within a blink of an eye the switch up occurs as the drumming line becomes more heavy set, as little key lines add character and flavour on top, all of which do their own little journeys into the stars before they become bound in the most wonderful way possible. A core synth line comes into view, providing an axis of sorts that the other melodic sequences revolve around, crafting a magical tunnel of sound that draws our focus right down it, our senses overloaded with the sheer beauty of it all. The track then enters into a dubby phase, where the drums and bass lead the way before being joined by a myriad of new key lines, which continually weave and dip as before, and like that we arrive back into the main melodic line, with its delicate presence still as transfixing as ever. The cut moves once again into the drum laden instrumental section, where the kick acts as an anchor within a sea of tonal expressionism, with melodic elements sliding in and out of view as sequence instigators to carry the feeling onwards. There's still time for a final phase of the song to come into view, and this occurs as the acid laden sequences take hold, with the cut willing and waiting to take us on one final journey into the deepness of life's potent invisible energies. What a cut. Up next comes Seefeel with their cut 'Spangle', with the version appearing here being the Autechre remix. Eerie synths call out across the plains, lapping at our feet as distant pads break through the cloudy sky, the voice like nature of the synths providing a rich and intricate narrative for us to revel in. Out of the voices comes a solid sequence, a landmark if you will, that breaks through the sun kissed clouds and embraces us with its warmth, adding a centre point for our focuses to be drawn towards. The next element that comes our way is the chiming key line, one that floats and quivers in the spaces between the main melodic waves, crafting its own little journey through the membranes that layer themselves upon each other, with this segment seeing the intro of distant drums pattering across the horizon line. Their presence is gentle at first but quickly gains traction as the track passes by, moving from the depths and into our visions with an increasing urgency, one that helps to prop up the ever moving skyline that drifts and weaves around the most releasing of experiences. Sheer bliss.
Up next comes Passarani 2099 with his cut 'Ixora', and the tone shifts into a more lively and uptempo setting. The arpeggio keys shift and groove between differing notes with a hypnotic beauty, with the drums and sweeping pads arriving not long after, with the overall picture one of losing yourself completely within the rhythm of it all. The track shifts between differing structures with frequency and verve, providing us with so much wonderment to point at and get involved within, with the shifts between the arpeggio-less segments and into the more breakbeaty and rhythmic sequences craft sparks that excite on every level. The free flowing movements from the previous cuts is all captured here as well, taking us down a path through all manner of places, spaces and environments, taking us on a whirlwind journey through the cosmos and back to earth again. Amazing stuff. Up next comes Soft Ballet with their cut Sand Lowe, remixed here by Polygon Window, and this one contains sounds we are less familiar with. The drums are heavy, metallic and rusty, breaking down through the glass ceiling with their ferocity and malice, setting a tone that is furthered by the presence of the voice that dips and dives through the spaces crafted by the drums. The overall picture is a deeply intoxicating one, where the light keys gently touch our skin as the voice channels its way deep into our subconscious, with the repetitive nature of the track running circles around us, pulling us in every direction imaginable. The track takes a dip in energy to hammer home the melodic elements, dipping us into a gloopy hazy euphoric pool, before lifting us right out again as the drums come swinging back into view, their razor sharp rhythm not lost on us quite yet, as the track takes one final look at its melodic overtones before slamming one final time back into the rhythmic structure, cascading us into the near distant future. Beautyon is up next with their cut 'To Swing Pi', and this one begins in a more overtly melodic environment. The arpeggio keys operate on both sides of the centre, the low end providing a bass tone of sorts and the other sequence crafts a foundation that places us right in the middle, entranced with its melodic frequencies and depth of field. The two lines become intertwined further as time passes on, the pace of the rhythm descending into a singular forward motion, its speed reaching hyper levels of intensity as the small trips in its solidness do not falter the track from rising higher and higher. A masterclass in dynamics and sonics, its a wavelength that persists in a distant realm, famed for its beauty and vitality. Up next comes Zugzwang with the track 'Euphonic', and this one begins with the textured drumming patterns lulling us into a soft and vibrant world. The key lines chime across the top ends, eager to showcase their character to us, the rhythm that develops around us is one to behold, as the most delicate of pads emerge in the backdrop of it all. The singulars become the expressive, with a beautiful bass line shining through the foundation of the track, as the lines and sequences weave and worm along to the flows of life that run all around us. The variations that move in and around the pan are delightful to the ears, channelling into that late morning feeling when the sun is up and the winds are blowing over tired bodies, looking out over an expanse that flows and highlights all sorts of beautiful colours. The track spends a far amount of time weaving and dipping in true IDM fashion, eager to cover all the bases and flow to all the boundaries that have been set up around the periphery, with ourselves found somewhere in the middle of it all, drifting through the breezes and the layers with in a mindful manner, always keen to know what might unravel next. A journey to end all journeys, that one. Finally, to wrap things up on this incredible saunter, we have Beaumont Hannant with his track 'Utuba', which starts off in suitably spacious territories. The vibrating drums feel alive with their engineered tone and application, crafting a beat that is both intriguing and bewildering, with the kicks and snares that come into view creating a life up in the feel and tone of the track, as well as that which resides deep within us. The melodics have been subdued up until this point, but with this shift in percussive intensity they blossom into life, with their arrangements becoming more flowing and ever present, something which is highlighted as the drums take a breather around the 3 minute mark. When it all comes back into view, the drums are more reserved, giving over more space to additional key lines to emerge and lay themselves on top, crafting a cavernous feel to proceedings that sees the music expand above and beyond our fields of vision. Its a perfect end to an experience like no other, a glorious celebration of the IDM movement which not only delivers on its technical content but on its emotional one too, with all the tunes placed at the right moments to either take you towards the clouds or deep within yourself. Damn.
'that last half-pill at 6am' feels like a very appropriate way to describe this audial experience, and its something that Ivkovic and Smagghe pull off with flying colours indeed. From the off, its clear what the content is going to be geared towards, but never for one minute do we deal in absolutes and predictability, merely indulging in the utterly wonderful blend of serenity and downright mind boggling sonics that just work together. Bound by a tethered feel and a balanced flow, the tunes open a window to a time when heads would get together and loose themselves in the moment, the spaces, the points in time that feel so distant yet now feel overly interconnected, with that experience now landing directly at our doorsteps. Its a record you will find yourself coming back to over and over again, until the end of our waking days, with this tracks ascending above and becoming one with the stars. Simply outstanding, from start to finish.
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