Various Artists - Parasols Volume 1 (Plink Plonk, 1993)
On this excellent compilation, the iconic UK techno label Plink Plonk showed us what they were all about, with a series of cuts that pointed in all manner of directions in the aim of achieving sonic and rhythmic nirvana.
There are some narratives that persist throughout dance music which will forever remain on a certain wavelength, their body of work occupying an invisible area that provides purpose and forward thinkingness at every corner. Eras came and went but stories told through sonics will always remain relevant, the DNA of a label shining through from its original context and landing right into our laps no matter at what point in time we find ourselves in. Electronic music swerved from an expansive and experimental nature and firmly into the all out sensory delicacy that soundtracked the 80s, 90s and beyond, with so many genres moving from home listening scenarios and into the deepest of club sets with captivating efficiency, with each week seemingly bringing over to us a new angle to explore and dig into. The waves of Techno, House, Acid House, Electro and more would pulsate through the earth's core and arrive in the hands of scenes, generations and idealistic individuals the world over, with so many inspired by these new breeds of electronic expressionism that made you move, groove and also ponder, often all at the same time. The cities of Detroit, Chicago and New York would very much lead the charge into this new era of possibility, but there were plenty of other places that would end up presenting nearly as important narratives for us to get deep within, all of which would put their own spin on the audial identities of the American sound. The UK perhaps presented one of the strongest cases in this regard, with the nation seemingly restless in its pursuit of sonic purity and a uniqueness that ended up with some of the most groundbreaking electronic music moments to occur outside of the USA. Out of all the genres that were reshaped or founded in the nation, Britain's love affair with Techno remains one of its most important relationships, a varied and deep rooted symbiotic connection that saw some iconic records being produced which paired both the 1st and 2nd waves of Detroit Techno firmly within a British gaze. The genre very much found a stream of consciousness in the UK, where countless producers started experimenting with the forms and notions which provided a truly original take, alongside the pioneers who crafted genres like Bleep and IDM. Within this innovation lay a collection of producers and labels who helped to forge this new identity, their discographies a testament to a time that we look back upon now and imagine the sheer excitement of it all, as record upon record came our way that blew the collectivised socks off the ravers who danced day and night to sounds seemingly from heaven itself. The mindset was to capture the essence of the feel and pair it with the endless possibilities found within hardware, a pairing of mindsets with technique and feel, with the results often something that sounded like the future, but remaining firmly within the present, and perhaps this is why so many tracks and discographies sound integral in this day and age. They remind us of a time when the ground laid out seemed primed for the taking, a physical and emotional space in which to expand and spew forth a delectable feeling that was only limited by the mind in what was possible, with everything released almost considered as a significant step forward in the story of Dance music, and the UK in many shapes and forms achieved this several times over. Seismic shifts were big, they were also small, but these all counted as the enriching lexicon of UK dance music became just that little bit more enchanting with each passing moment, the templates for the future being laid bare for those in the moment and for those who would come to revisit the music in later years, with its power still holding up as something to behold in our hands.
In an era where many stories stood out as integral to the development of dance music in the UK, Plink Plonk's discography remains one of those journeys that sticks out for its innovative stance and pure electronic essence. The label began life in 1993, and was founded by Richard West aka Mr C and Paul 'Rip' Stone, with the name inspired by a sound heard through a speaker at a party in 1988, and thus began their story. The music found within is a rich and vast array of UK house and techno, with a consistency found in the manner in which producers would approach crafting cuts on the label, with a myriad of tones helping to interlink releases together with a highly enjoyable efficiency. There was always an emphasis on the rhythm, a feature which always shined forth from the Plink imprint, with melodic features slinking along in the murky depths or up top as a key progressive feature, but there was always scope to present a differing blend each and every time. The production value was always very impressive, with techniques and compositions to match as the sonics crafted felt very real indeed, providing an immersive experience that pointed in a slightly different direction every time. The label represented one of the purest strains of UK House and Techno, with much of its sound orientated within the inbetween spaces that the two genres shared, with the music tending to lean either one way or the other but maintaining key features of the far reaching side of the spectrum. It wasn't just house and techno that was presented to us, with Trance, Acid, Electro and Downtempo all represented in equally compelling ways over the course of its discography. The label is well known for its EP series but there were a number of long plays features too, which in a world of constant EP release was very much welcome, as it saw producers expand upon their club orientated visions to dive deeper into the essences of their sound and the UK audial identity. The label was also very well known for its compilation series, which in true 90s fashion contained a number of records that catered for different moods and contexts, and contains some of the best work found on the imprint. The discography is a literal gold mine of 90s excellence, with some of our favourites including the mesmerising trance laden hooks found on the debut EP, 'Floorstruk', which was released by Pluto in 1993; the enchanting feels of the brilliant 'Semblance/Incantation' single, which was released by Megalon in 93'; the smooth bombastics found on the Wild West release 'Terraforma', which also arrived in 93'; the excellent progressive feels that dwell within the Underground Science produced 'Germination' record, which also arrived in 93'; the timeless ebbs and flows that reside within the LA Synthesis produced 'Agraphobia' release, which arrived in 1994; the bassy undertones and ever forward thinkingness of the 'Grow Me' record, which was released by Bushwaka! in 1995; the unravelling and impecably tight grooves found on the 'Eye 2 Eye' record, which was released by Kosmic Messenger (Stacey Pullen!) in 1995; the cosmic tendencies of the excellent 'Dissolve' record, released jointly by Insync and Mysteron in 1995; the rhythmic pulses and majesty that make up the 'Next To Nowhere' record, which was released by Ansicht in 1996; the incredible tones and feels of the 'Augur' LP, which was released by Interloper in 1996; the intricate and deeply involving feels of the 'Fog Of The Unknown' record, which was released by God Of The Machine in 1997; and finally, the sweeping cosmic technologies found within the 'MASP' release, which was produced jointly by Insync and IF in 1997. Both the Spacewars records are well worth checking out too, and show the label moving in a drum 'n' bass direction, and provide a new side to the label's story and its incredible sound. There's little wonder as to why so many of the tracks released on Plink Plonk were licensed to several other major labels for compilations, and that's pretty much down to the quality of the music being presented on the imprint, with each release simply confirming just how consistent Plink Plonk was in relation to issuing records. The producers whom they bought together to craft records all shared similar voices, commonalities that stretched across the spectrum of the emerging UK sound and joined forces in order to start writing a significant chapter in the country's overall aesthetic. The music had real substance to it, simply not sticking to one side of the narrative or weaving a singular yarn, but instead combining effortlessly to ensure that each record stood out as its own confined world but also ensuring that its presence within the mixture would further the identity of the label. No matter where you dip into the label's works you will be immediately drawn into the rhythms, key work and atmosphere, and the environment in which West and Stone curated remains one of the 90s most significant. If you enjoy 90s house, techno, or dance music in general, we cannot recommend this label enough to you, its simply astonishing.
And now we turn our attentions to the record being reviewed today, the debut compilation by the label, 'Parasols Vol. 1', which arrived in 1993 and contained some of the imprint's best work from that year. Plink Plonk didn't mess around at all with pumping out high quality records in 93', with 11 EPs (yes 11!) released in that year, and what better way to sum up their 1st year anniversary than with a celebration of some of the key moments from that run of releases. We touched upon before how the label was quick to foster a shared audial environment in which producers could work alongside the existing vibe whilst throwing their own twist into proceedings, and this feeling abounds from every corner of this release. The tone is one of morphological momentums and hybridised progressions, the music moving within many stylistic circles as it ebbs and flows its way right to the very top, each cut standing tall in terms of quality and production value, and we are left mesmerised every single step of the way. As a listening experience it takes the breath away, with a lot of the tracks primed and ready for dancefloor usage but also offering up enough of a dynamic to feel right at home on the sofa, bleeding into our minds as we look to explore every nook and cranny of the sounds being presented. So, without further delay, lets dive right into this goldmine of feeling, rhythm and progression....
Up first comes Rameses with the track 'Digi Space', which starts us off in suitably expansive territories. The rising cascades and swells mingle in amongst themselves, vying for a spot in the ever expanding space, and out of the midst comes the key arpeggio, its sequencing firm and undulating as it weaves and winds through the sonics to provide a anchor point for all to bind itself to. The drums then arrive soon after, their entrance pulled off to a T and their feel absolutely perfect, employing a mixture of breakbeat elements and atmospherical techno grooves, with the spaces between the various elements filling up with an feverish intensity. The track then spends some time moving the various lines of inquiry in and around the pulse, which in turn helps to maintain a sense of intrigue moving forwards as we dip and dive amongst a sea of bliss. The next phase sees much of the top line textures disappear to leave just the arpeggio and the drums, with the percussive features really allowed to shine here with all the clarity in the world as wave upon wave of feeling washes over us. What an opener. Up next comes Mantrac with the cut 'Apok Dub', and this one begins in very up tempo territories indeed. The kicks move onwards with a furious driving feel, never for one moment looking over their shoulder as we pummel our way forward into the night, as these rhythmic undulations prop up a series of meandering pads and light twinkling elements that help to bring further scope into the mix. The drums continue to add to their momentum as time passes by, with shakers and hats being thrown into the mix along with an emerging bass line that helps to further add weight to proceedings. The track then completely switches it up in terms of tone as the expansive cosmic chords are replaced with a manipulated key sequence that lightly treads on top of the rhythm, its wavelengths intwining with the kicks and hats, its interplay something to marvel at. The track continues to shift underneath with ever so subtle flourishes occurring on a regular basis, as we continue to be insnared by the power that this track contains. Gorgeous stuff. Underground Science are up next with their track 'Protosynthesis', and this one starts off with the repeating arpeggio to get us going. The keys saunter right through the mid section of the track, looping around a ever evolving beat that starts to grow legs and multiply as time passes by, with a gorgeous simmering hi hat and cymbal layer that culminates at the end of every bar with the claps. The melodies are expanded upon as emphatic chordal lines swing into view from up high, with their presence not lasting long as we move into a more stripped back phase of the track, where the rhythm remains king as we slide through an engrossing outlay of instrumentals. The bass line remains prominent throughout as we smoothly flow through the phases, with additional pads laying themselves over the tops of the beats, with our eyes turning in all different directions to get a glimpse at the bigger picture that seems to only expand further and further as time passes by. An absolute triumph, this one.
Mantrac is up next with the track 'Coaster Dub', and this one begins off in groovy surroundings. The drums swing on both sides of the pan, as dub like stabs keep the ship steady in the middle, and as the ensemble moves onwards the acid line then emerges to cut across the plain of sound, its feel and application adding a sense of dynamism to proceedings as we continue to become more involved as the track progresses onwards. Slight undulations occur frequently, with these little touches helping to further the depth of the track, allowing us to keep very much on board with the momentum, with the cut switching it up as the regular drum beat emerges to get us firmly on the move. The acid line continues to rise here as distant swells move in and around the backdrop, their presence and placement adding further to the scope of the track as we remain mesmerised by all that is on offer here. The track reaches a climax of sorts before retreating downwards to leave just the drums and the acid line, before reaching up to the stars once more as we drift then drift some more. Classy stuff. Up next comes Somnambulist with the track 'Nightflyte', and this one begins in more up tempo territories. The drumming pattern sees the kicks move in all manner of directions, as the claps reverb across an empty space, awaiting the arrival of new elements, and this arrives pretty emphatically with the acid line worming its way into view. Its raw power encourages the rest of the mixture to up the ante and work over time in diversifying the rhythmic outlay, which occurs as the drums become ever more complex with each passing moment, with no two bars sounding the exact same. The acid line then moves the track into further progressions that see further cosmic explosions occur across the top ends of the cut, the music now pretty much unstoppable as we groove constantly to the undulations and transitions. The track then makes a big old step foward as the acid line retreats to provide space for a more melodic section to come into view, with deep pads acting alongside the muted acid line, with the climax arriving soon after as it all comes full circle. Fucking amazing stuff. Up next comes Animus Amor with the track 'And On', and this one starts off with the distant bass to get us going. The distant notes are quickly joined by hats and cymbals, and as we move forward the groove only gets stronger to the point where the kicks arrive to the enjoyment of all involved, with this transition seeing additional melodic elements moving into the mix. Its wonderful how certain drumming elements act as melodic rhythms, with this technique helping to bind the track together in a wonderful forward momentum, with the feeling only solidifying when the sweeping chords come into view which drive us into euphoria territories. The way in which the keys slide around the beat is a sight to behold, as our eyes are constantly drawn to the varying undulations that occur in the wavelengths, the music flowing through our bodies and minds with a totality in sonic control. This track, fuckkkkk.
Megalon comes on next with the track 'Darkness', and this one takes no time at all in getting into things. The beat is hard as nails, with a softly repeating chord permeating through the drums which is then joined by the ever evolving acid line, as the track starts to fill in the gaps and make the experience feel fuller by the minute. The acid line leads the way as we shift through differing tonal outlooks and spaces, the scope of the track ever expanding outwards as we dip and dive through so many spaces and places. The undercurrents begin to emerge from underneath as we peak through into a spatial composition that rides the crest very high indeed, the ever morphing rhythmic foundation doing wonders to the mind and even more so the body. Top stuff. Wild West is up next with the track 'Citric', and this one begins with the chiming acid laden chordal touches to get us going. The track quickly evolves to include some highly expressive hats and cymbals, with the resulting movement forward dominated by the feel and application of the keys, and before long the kicks arrive to complete the story. Distant pads continue to emerge and float away on the horizon line, with a meandering bass line keeping tabs on the rhythm underneath, as a swirling key line probes throughout the mid frequencies, taking its time to add intrigue before showing its full nature. The track takes a dip down to showcase its absolute limits, which take in a huge amount of melody and percussive features, and as we jump right back into it we keep getting reminded of what makes this track so wonderful, with its progressive feel continually pushing us onwards in a reminder of what can be possible with a little thought to the sonics of it all. Top stuff, as per usual. Underground Science are up once again with the track 'Metamorphic', and this one begins with the hazy thumps to get us going. The drumming pattern is set to all out assault mode, with sweeping textures moving right through from underneath to rise higher and higher through the ensemble, with this movement then matched like for like with the additional chordal line that comes forth, as the momentum washes over us in a series of sublime waves. The track then switches into a differing set of densities, with textures moving away to reveal the underbelly of the track and its various depths and tones, all of which showcase to us that the person behind it all has a real sense of knowledge about how these tracks will end up. The sweeping chords begin to return at this point, quietly at first before moving right into our peripheries, their presence and tone maintaining a powerful backdrop for us to stare at, and there's still plenty of time for us to move through the motions with the track continually evolving and then some. Incredible.
Megalon is up next with the track 'Semblance', and this one starts off full blooded indeed. The pulse of the track has that prog house vibe to it, with the light bass notes revolving around the consistent kicks and hats, with swirling key lines moving in the spaces set between the floating percussive structure, with snares coming into the mix to add that little bit of extra vibrancy. A single chord line emerges through the middle of the track, and before long we are joined by the vibrating arpeggio sequence that really takes things to new heights, transforming the sonics of the track with a devastating effectiveness. The track takes a breather as the kicks move away to reveal a deep set pool of colour and feel, but the rhythm was never far away and this is confirmed as we rise higher and higher once again, with all the features coming back into the mix in the most triumphant of ways. Gorgeous stuff. Pluto is up next with the track 'Plutobeat', and this one starts off with the kicks, bass and sliding melodic sample to get us going. The hats soon multiply and make their presence known, as a chiming key line starts to peak out from across the plains, with this leading the track into its first climatic moment, with the build up leading us right back into the mix. Its a track that washes over you with its immediacy and warmth, with the listener provided with a space in which to reach out and get to know all the elements that persist in this charming universe. Gorgeous stuff. To wrap things up, we have Stranger and the track 'Krakatoa', and this one begins with a series of melodic swells to get us going. The chordal arrangement lovingly lays itself out over the space, with kicks and hats finding a space in which to call home as we move and groove within a sea of lush vibrancy, but this all cuts out to give way for the drumming pattern to come back into the mix, and oh boy is it a good one indeed. The melodics soon make an appearance, and its tear jerking to say the least, with a series of sublime chordal lines washing over a sea of simmering beats, and there's still time for one more transition in order to highlight the power of the bass. The track then continues to evolve from here, shifting gears between percussive laden spaces and chordal driven dreamscapes, and we love it.
Dance music is not commonly associated with staying power, where the music found within is so interesting as to keep on returning to understand all the angles that persist within its walls. This record has all the staying power in the world, with the music on display continually leaving us in a state of awe as to its fluidity and inventiveness, with a level of intelligence on display that merges excellent compositional awareness with sheer creative ability. The music remains dynamic and ever flowing, moving around a core concept and expanding from that anchor as far as the eye can see, touching upon all the main facets of house and techno and simply knocking those facets into touch. Each producer brings something to the table, be it the progressions, the drums, the melodies, or the environmental world building, you see it all unravel before your eyes in a sea of infatuating rhythms and chords. You feel yourself dreaming, carried away on a wave to the farest seas of possibility, and that will be a journey that will be undertaken time and time again. Some of the finest examples of Techno are located in this compilation, and that isn't something we say lightly. Truly extraordinary.
Check out the record here: