A Journal Of The Dark Arts
From deconstructed bass music from Seoul, South Korea to alien hip-hop to subtle noise, Opal Tapes’ newest batch is satisfyingly eclectic and diverse.
It is increasingly uncommon to go to a dance party or rave in 2019 where you only hear one genre or style of electronic music. It’s not unusual to hear a smattering of techno, drum ‘n bass, bass music, trap, or house music over the span of one evening, perhaps even in one DJ set. And yet, despite this diversity, some electronic labels still focus on just one style. Metalheadz are still churning out quality d’n’b, 25 years later. Tresor still put out stripped down, mnml techno records. But is this really the sound of the electronic music underground?
The UK’s Opal Tapes release music from the true vanguard of the electronic underground… quite literally. The sounds that Opal Tapes lay to ferric tape and vinyl sound like what might be heard in any experimental music basement or underground dance music dungeon from anywhere on Earth. In the underground, it’s not that uncommon to hear a noise artist play next to a DJ next to a live electronic band.
With the electronic music scene being so atomized and eclectic, putting these disparate approaches next to one another in any form of cohesive sense is a major achievement. It’s also an invaluable contribution to the underground music culture, bringing various strains, flavours, and approaches does much to help bring the various tribes of electronic music fanatics back together again, where we may all join forces and groove together beneath the stars or the strobe lights.
Opal Tapes are always exceptional at curating and collating disparate sounds, styles, and scenes under the rubric of experimental dance music. Even better, they tend to release music in batches, between their main imprint, plus the harder-hitting Black Opal Tapes and V A N I L L A sub-labels, among others. Everything they release, on any of their imprints, is always quality, always interesting at the very least, not to mention mixed and mastered to the highest-possible standards. Their batches are an invaluable way to peak in on the electronic underground and hear some sounds you might not hear otherwise.
On August 16, Opal Tapes released a staggering FIVE NEW RELEASES, each one stylistically different yet still coming together as a cohesive whole.
Here’s our write-up and review of the latest Opal Tapes batch!
Once upon a time, dubstep brought together the militancy of dub’s heavyweight bass with the precision and freneticism of modern beat programming and sound design, becoming a kind of xenomorph of all of the underground sounds and styles of electronic music up to that point. It didn’t take long for all of those strands and strains to separate, settling back down into a Saturday Morning Cartoon version of club music.
And yet, the potential for interesting and eclectic ideas is still there. Where better to explore the possibilities than the relatively remote Seoul, South Korea?
J E L L V A K O is a rising star of the Korean electronic underground. She cut her teeth constructing post-dubstep workouts in the vein of Rustie or Hyperdub Records, who seem to get a shout-out on Integration with “Kode 1.” Integration is her first major release outside of Korea, and boy, is it a banger.
Almost too short and sweet, J E L L V A K O explores all of her disparate interests across six short tracks. There’s the sodden sub-bass of album opener “Fanatic,” to the disembodied slo-mo hip-hop of “FaMe,” which sounds like a bummer bedroom slow jam picked up from a foreign galaxy to the dub techno meets glitch-hop of “Dose 1” which closes out the A Side.
J E L L V A K O’s main strength is her attention to detail, with intricate, futuristic sound design like you might hear from someone like Objekt or Portland’s Visible Cloaks. Everything has a futuristic sheen about it, seeming to glow in the dark.
If J E L L V A K O is any indication, Seoul must have an interesting and exploratory electronic music scene. Makes you want to dig deeper.
Loopy, drugged out ambient music meets chopped and skewed beats on this truly knackered document from Chris Durham of Traag and Church Shuttle.
If you take the press release at its word, you’d think Xanbient Works Volume 1 from newcomer DJ Bando would be an album of soot-soaked, steely industrial techno a la Scuba or Shed. If you were to judge it solely on its album cover, perhaps you’d expect an album of underground, lo-fi purple drank hip-hop. While you’d not be entirely wrong, on either count, it still doesn’t come close to scratching the surface of Xanbient Works Volume 1′s true oddness.
The album’s press release speaks of “ultra-lofi punk-techno that is recorded and mixed in some stain-filled steel box,” which might bring to mind a certain kind of hard-hitting aggrotech beat music. Perhaps Xanbient starts off that way, but it’s then ran through a battalion of scummy pedals and effects processors, becoming a hypnotic wall of sound. Album opener “Hard Mold” begins life as a simple, spartan sci-fi sound collage before an almost acidic arpeggio comes creeping in, like bioluminescent life emerging from the deep. “Zug” sounds like a breakbeat that’s been bent and broken until becoming an old-timey locomotive. That just happens to be running around Jupiter’s rings. “Romulus Pitch,” sounds like a war between two intergalactic species, while some vampire wizard plays an eerie, elegiac pipe organ requiem.
Xanbient Works Volume 1 isn’t likely to work its way into any of yr DJ sets anytime soon, and that’s okay. It’s got a truly disorienting feeling about it, as if all of those pedals and processors were laced with LSD, coming out all warped and wonky in the process. It’s a beautiful disorientation that will truly take you places, most of which you’ve never seen or heard before!
Harsh and soothing ambient noise from Geneva, Switzerland’s Andrea Nucamendi and Opal Tapes labelhead Stephen Bishop.
Noise music is still alive and well in basements and bunkers all over the land. While many noise tapes are underwhelming in their lack of creativity and original vision, noise performances can still be transcendent, sublime experiences. The volume sucks you under, while the textures and timbres roll you around like a riptide. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the annihilation of all thought.
“New World in a Peaceful Death,” the sidelong noise meditation for Mexican-by-way-of-Geneva-Switzerland’s Andrea Nucamendi is a stunning example of what Harsh Noise is still capable of. It starts off as silence, gradually climbing to a violent crescendo of white noise and deadly harmonics. Rather than the sometimes drab White Noise of much HNW, Purpura’s noise billows and glistens, like a bank of storm clouds rolling in, occasionally shot through with dashes of heat lightning.
This lays the groundwork for the unexpected stillness and beauty of “Dust Sculptures,” the B Side ambient meditation of Stephen Bishop’s new Lacrima project. “Dust Sculptures,” sounds like a choir loft frozen in time, with hosannas and arias dribbling like honey, leaving vespers in their wake. Which is even more incredible as “Dust Sculptures” is composed entirely of the sounds of lathes, drill bits, and metal polishing equipment. If Arvo Part had composed the soundtrack for David Lynch’s Industrial Symphonies and then you played them at half speed, it might transport you to a similar heaven as “Dust Sculptures.”
Two of Industrial Techno’s hardest hitters and biggest experimentalists come together as VSCC. The sum is so much more, and more bizarre, than its parts.
Khris Reinshagen, founder of L.A. hard-hitting techno label Nostilevo, and Marc Gonya of Granite Mask, both make some of the most hard-hitting, uncompromising, punishing industrialized techno music North America has to offer. A pairing of the two is a dream come true. VSCC more than lives up to its hype while, simultaneously, sounding nothing like what you might expect.
When you hear the phrase ‘Industrial Techno’ you’d be forgiven for conjuring images of Front 242 instrumentals and KMFDM remixes. Even some of today’s Industrial techno revisionists still fall prey to such a stereotype. To both Reinshagen and Gonya’s credit, ESMGD doesn’t sound much like the EBM 2.0 of much of today’s Industrial Techno resurgence. It also doesn’t sound much like their disparate projects.
Album opener “Motionless and White” comes on with a tectonic kick drum, which is techno shorthand for “buckle up, it’s about to go down.” It is a credit to VSCC’s song-writing instincts that they don’t immediately slam into a pounding 4/4 rhythm, instead letting the machinic basslines and handclaps to ramble down a funhouse hall of mirrors. Rather than building to a climax, as most mainstream electronic music, VSCC are content to drift around in dry ice fog and strobe lights. “88_9_29” is more industrial than techno. It sounds like Detroit’s Packard Plant humming itself to sleep. A burbling bassline hums along like an assembly line, devoid of purpose and destination. The sound of machines, dreaming.
The B Side continues along apace. “143 129 23.6 502 .000 .662 5” burbles along, glacially, devoid of urgency, motion for the sake of moving. This is dance music for late-capitalist collapse, when all the wildernesses have been conquered, when all frontiers have been explored. Finally, “7_10_31” closes out with a bit of a fight. It’s no more agitated or frenetic than the preceding 3 tracks, yet a hint of tension begins to gather and accumulate, like a cloud of static electricity humming about its burred peripheries.
The only downside to EMSGD is its too short, a scant 20 minutes of some of this year’s finest industrialized techno to date. Pick it up on tape, so you can just flip it over again and again, forever and ever amen.
Opal Tapes’ August 2019 batch concludes with a re-issue of one of the 21st Century’s most adventurous sonic explorers, Seth Nehil, on the V A N I L L A sub-label.
Electronic music, electricity, technology, are all adept at creating straight lines, reaching for the horizon, beyond the vanishing point, beyond imagination, into it pierces the iris of God himself. There are very few straight lines in Nature, however. They belong to the realm of abstraction and mathematical probability.
While computers and technology started out in clean rooms and sterile laboratories, they have long since surpassed such clinical environs to fuse with the natural world. Somewhere, out there, there’s a mainframe whirring away beneath a jungle canopy. Somewhere, there’s a super-computer tracing the contours of clouds.
To simulate this organic/technological hybridization, sound artist Seth Nehil, bending and warping inorganic sounds and shapes into beguiling colourful whirls of stuttering static and digital alienation. Album opener “Skew,” sounds like an Artificial Intelligence with amnesia, forgetting its own cognizance as sparks stutter and hiss, as belts grind into dust and decay. “Stint” sounds like a fabrication plant after dusk, halogen lights glowing dismally in the encroaching gloom. “Veer” sounds like rain falling on a tin roof in the heart of a rainforest, while flames flicker in the dimness, throwing rainbows through the air.
Skew/Flume is the perfect encapsulation of all that is good and right and (un)holy about Opal Tapes and sub-labels. Truly anything goes, anything could happen. Every time you drop one of their tapes or records, you could be transported to some strange new realm you previously didn’t know existed. They’re returning the heart, soul, and imagination to electronic music. Let them never again be separate.
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