Sunday, 29 November 2015

deepArtSounds: Part One

YOU can do things the right way, or you can do things the wrong way. And then you can do things proper. George Boutopoulos does things proper. For George is the face of Swiss label deepArtSounds, an imprint that has come a hell of a long way in a short time – well, kind of – and found a very special place in the hearts, minds and record collections of many a serious head.

It’s been done with a total commitment to, as well as emphasis and insistence on, doing things only one way: the right way. Nothing half-hearted, no trend following or commercial imperative. Just a passion for the music the Zurich-based label love, adore and whole-heartedly believe in.

Originally launched in 2007 but not debuting until five years later, the extraordinary deepArtSounds roster already boasts amongst others Ron Trent, Anthony Nicholson, Above Smoke, Dubbyman, Ernie and Jenifa Mayanja. If that little lot doesn’t tell you all you need to know about where they [they being Boutopoulos plus label partners Roberto Pistolese and Okan Akpinar] are coming from and, indeed, going to then nothing will.

But the story of the label goes way back beyond all this. To growing up clubbing and record collecting in Switzerland’s largest city, to Boutopoulos’ first production alter ego Dan Piu, the formation nearly 20 years ago of deepArtSounds’ parent label Moto Music and set against the backdrop of the underground scene in Madrid and the soundtrack of US house music.

It’s a story so captivating, enthralling and darned lengthy that bringdownthewalls decided to tell it in three parts. Here in part one we talk to the charming Mr. Boutopoulos about the early days and Zurich’s notorious Flamingo Club, record shopping and, er, krautrock.

What was your first introduction to house music?
My older sister definitely opened the door for me to this fantastic space I love so much. It was disco and soulful dance music back then. She often told me about this magical place, the Flamingo Club [in Zurich], with that extravagant crowd inside. There you met gays, drag queens, prostitutes, pimps and dealers, but above all you would find the real music lovers.

By early 1987 at the age of 16, I had the chance to enter the ‘pleasure dome’ as a young kid, and yes, it was like “wooow”. First of all, I was so impressed by the extraordinary PA sound quality. The legendary local DJ Roger played the latest garage house tracks that he bought on his numerous New York trips. It was the song You Don't Know Me [listen here] from Serious Intention that blew my mind away. I consider it to be the first-ever song that today we would call house music.

So where did it go from there? 
Since this epic experience in the Flamingo Club, I immediately decided to buy records. I then used to go to the city’s best record shop Panthera, which specialised in US and UK imports. To be honest, I didn’t focus on labels. I didn’t even know about the name ‘house music’ back then. I just wanted to buy the newest stuff that sounded modern and kind of uplifting: the Flamingo Sound!

I hear you have a collection of 10000+. Is it mostly house music or is it quite eclectic?
It is definitely an eclectic collection; disco, rare funk and, of course, house music. But I also own countless techno-soul and electronica records. Jazz and acid jazz are also favourite genres, as well as Afro and Latin Music.

Where do you keep them all?
I keep them all in my studio where I also have my hardware studio equipment. Since 1992 I’ve shared this studio together with my label partner Roberto.

What was or is your favourite physical record store and why?
My favourite store is ZERO ZERO Records in Zurich. It specialises in rare disco and soul tunes from the ’70s and ’80s but it also has a lot of hip-hop and house music. The owner of the store often goes to the States to buy old and big record collections directly from DJs. For purists there is also a ZERO ZERO warehouse on the outskirts of Zurich where you can pick up a 12” out of half a million records!! Without overstating it, it is definitely one of the largest record stores worldwide.

These days, I only go three or a maximum of four times a year because I always spend too much money. It’s nearly impossible to get out there without spending hundreds of Swiss Francs.

Also, A1 Records in New York is also amongst my favourite stores too. Perfect for rare disco.

What are your buying habits like these days?

I am still interested in new music, even though it is quite hard to find really innovative music these days.

Older records still sound ‘new’ to me. Krautrock from the early seventies is a good example. I didn’t really know about how it sounds or what is the message behind it, but it sounded fresh and new to me.

What I don’t like are those producers who try to imitate a certain style from the past. They even try to buy the same synths and equipment to get the same sound. I recently got very sick with the ‘early ’90s’ new interpretation. This kind of copy/paste music I try to avoid even though it sounds nice sometimes. I always try to support originality. There is still enough music to discover. For me Juno, YouTube, Facebook and especially Discogs are very good tools to find new food for the ears, but not comparable with a cool vinyl record store. Especially when travelling. You will find me in every record shop of every city I visit.

Going back to that ‘early ’90s house/garage re-interpretation’ genre you mentioned, I have to agree, totally hated it especially when there are so many great records from that period anyway. So which current artists/producers are you in to?
Hehe, I could imagine that! Obviously we both went through the same school. There are some things that young producers should pay more respect to instead of trying to copy the old masters. They even try to copy their old studio equipment, which I think is kind of ridiculous. It’s definitely not the way to create something interesting.

As for the question, of course I am still into the sounds of the giants; Ron Trent, DJ Spinna, Anthony Nicholson, Larry Heard, Lars Bartkuhn, Glenn Underground and, of course, many more. They are still producing sophisticated and inspiring dance music, while others became very lazy in terms of quality and innovation.

Who I am really in to today? There are a lot but I want to mention four guys.
Anthony Nicholson is currently doing a very great job. He is one of those producers who I really respect, not only because of his great music, that he produces day by day, but also because of his full dedication to this music and his determination to try new ways and to break rules and old conventions. Listening to his music is like listening to a teacher. He is already in his 40s but still has the power and energy of a youngster for creating something new.

I also want to mention Jenifa Mayanja. She continues with her great work which I really like and admire. Her melodies are played so delicately and so nimbly. It’s music from another planet.

Then I want to talk about the outstanding producer Bjak. He is way underrated I feel and, I guess, his music seems to be still undiscovered. This guy is blessed with so much talent. Listening through his songs I’m always losing the sense for time and space. His arrangements are splendid and his vocals are killers. I hope there is a lot more to come in the future.

Recently I also became a follower of Andras Fox. I like the simplicity of his music, which sounds quite vintage and old-fashioned. It is the purity and naivety of his songs that make me feel good while listening. I also like the way he promotes himself.

You mentioned the great Larry Heard aka Mr. Fingers there George. So many people name-check him and, of course, this site is a tribute to the man. But for you, what makes him special?
Lovely to mention him! I often ask myself what makes him the God of deep house. I can only state my own feelings about him. I always come to the conclusion that this man has given to us a strong message, which everyone should decode themselves and for themselves. To me it means that electronic music should have soul. No more, no less.

His album Introduction [if you don’t know it you should: here] definitely changed my mind and since then I knew that music should always be treated honestly, especially while making music. Larry never used to sample beats, chords or even grooves. Listening to Larry’s music is the best example of what music can trigger in your soul and body. His music has simple clear melodies but it is complete and unique. It’s pure magic!

Changing tack slightly now George, from collector to DJ I guess is a common journey but why did you decide you wanted to start producing and set up your first labels?
There was no special reason to get into music production. I just felt it and I wanted to produce my own tracks. I was totally impressed and inspired by the digital sounds of Larry Heard’s album Introduction that I mentioned.

I guess it was around early ’93, when I bought a brand new Korg X3, a multi-digital synth together with the 808 drum-machine to create similar sounds and chords. I still have many tracks from that time stored on DAT. Still unreleased and untouched.

The song Love Forever that appeared on my recent Allstarr Motomusic release on Deep Explorer represents my ideas and my feelings from that time.

By mid-to-late ’90s I got more into the classic analogue synths and my music became a little darker and harder. Without all this social media that we have today, it was extremely difficult to find a label. There was not a label scene in our country, so together with my partner Roberto we needed to build our own labels; No Acting Vibes and Moto Music. Moto Music 001 and 002 still remain the brand-marks of the label Moto Music. It was a great satisfaction for me watching Jeff Mills on his countless sets playing my The Shine EP.

Any idea how Jeff Mills picked up on The Shine EP?
No idea. We didn’t send any promo material to DJs. It’s quite likely that he bought it himself. He played this record many times on his fast techno sets. Once he played it as I stood in front of his decks and it was quite amazing. After nearly two decades, he recently uploaded The Shine EP [check out Autopsy here] on his personal YouTube account and shared this on Facebook.

It shows he is still connected to this record. It was a big honour for me and this made me feel nostalgic and a little proud.

Check out:
deepArtSounds here
Motion Fhere

Coming soon...deepArtSounds: Part Two...Aliases, Asia and the rebirth of Moto Music

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Professor Inc. – From Scratch To Formula – Boe Recordings

AS Prince nearly wrote, it’s been seven hours and fifteen days since I started this bloody intro. And all because I fancied some Oscar Wilde-style witticism, Ricky Gervais gag or George Bernard Shaw-type play on words around the name Boe. Bo Diddley. Bodacious. Even Bo Derek. But, alas, I’ve given up and all that leaves me is to get to the point and declare how bleedin’ terrific is the new twelve from the super little London-based label of that name.

We’ve always had a real soft spot for Boe here at bringdownthewalls and now nearly 30 releases in – even more if you include special series and sister label For Those That Knoe – that love shows no sign of abating. And having already extolled the virtues of head honcho Ben Parkinson’s production skills in an earlier review, it’s his A&R nous that I am now here to doff my cap at. Because returning to the Boe fold is French producer Professor Inc. with an EP even more thunderously ace than his stylish Illumination Of The Path label debut of three years ago.

Low-slung pumping house is the order of the day on this four-track beauty. Opening shot Crazy sets the tone with its irresistible 4/4 thrust, pulsating rhythm and husky vocal snatch. Underground is another hypnotic belter too, rolling beats and fabulous floaty synths proving an intoxicating brew.

As excellent as these two club-bound cuts are, and trust me they are, being the perverse little bugger that I am, it is once again the B-side that really grabs me round the throat and demands ‘buy me’.

Life After Asylum does have plenty of meat on it too. But here the emotive, even melancholic, strings drift beautifully across the sparse landscape rendering the track one for both the head and the feet. Standout cut in my book, however, is EP closer Put Up The Vibe. Warmer and more comforting than an open-fire toasted crumpet, this vinyl-only treat grooves along joyously with lovely vocal, synth and FX stabs for company.

One of the finest selections from the Boe peeps.

Check out:
From Scratch To Formula @ Juno

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Jacksonville: Live In Edinburgh

THAT man Jacksonville might as well take up residence on this site. He is without doubt one of the most played producers round these parts and if not extolling the virtues of a new release, then you can often find us waxing lyrical over a remix he’s knocked out or pining for more material from the Edinburgh-based artist.

Apart from genuinely being one of our favourite deep house dons, he’s also a friend of ours and a top lad too. So what has the man known also as Chris Lyth been up to this time? Doing what he probably does best and that’s putting together a brand spanking new set, this time for a live show in his hometown.

Bringdownthewalls caught up with Lyth for a wee word about preparations for Animal Hospital at La Belle Angèle in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town this Friday [November 27th].

How is work on the new live set coming along then Chris?
Yeah, it's coming along great thanks. I’m almost deaf from rinsing out the monitors all weekend. It’s all good fun, plus having a deadline is a great motivator to work my arse off. 

Is it a difficult process putting it together?
I’d be lying if I said it was easy. It’s a fair undertaking to write an hour of music that is club focused and engineer it to sound good on a club system, all using fairly limited tools. I like to build scaffolding that gives me lots of room to move about and respond to the crowd dynamic.  

Your live set in Zurich [check it out at the bottom of this post] from a couple of years back stills sounds fresh as a daisy. The gig you did earlier this year in Geneva was ace too. So what can those coming along to the gig this Friday expect from the new live set? 
Cheers, yeah both of those sets were good fun. Every set is different and I’ve never played the same set twice. The one I’m working on at the moment is a fair bit techier than the Zurich one. I’ll still keep plenty of groove and atmosphere in there, but the whole thing is a lot punchier. 

Another producer asked me a few days ago if I change the style of my set when I play abroad. I’d say I pretty much stick to my guns. There’s no Tower of Babel-esque confusion of tongues with house and techno. The 808 always translates. 

Is any of the set likely to find a release?
Every time I write a live set I tend to find something that makes it to plastic. It’s a great place to find out if an arrangement works in a club environment. Both Tokyo [Atmospheric Existence] and Seberg [Inner Shift] came from parts of my live set.

So how did the La Belle Angèle gig come about and what do you know about the night there?
It’s with the guys at Animal Hospital [check it here]. I headlined at their New Year’s Eve party at Studio 24 a couple of years ago, which was an amazing night. They have just moved to La Belle Angèle, which recently re-opened after being burned down about 10 years ago. They’re really meticulous about the way they organise their events and always get in a great crowd.

And what’s forthcoming for Jacksonville?
More live sets and some 12s in the New Year. I’m also hatching plans to put out a few EPs on a new label of my own. I’ve got an interesting concept in mind so all being well that will drop soon.

Check out:
Jacksonville on Soundcloud
Jacksonville @ Discogs
La Belle Angèle online

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Ben Boe – Journeys Into The Realm Of Team 17 – Contrast Wax

THERE is an empty space on my record shelves that has been crying out for a new release from Contrast Wax. And having turned to Ben Parkinson of Boe Recordings and For Those That Knoe fame, the ever-consistent boutique label have done themselves and my vinyl collection rather proud with this their eighth release.

Having curated his own imprints so diligently and to near-perfection, Parkinson has emerged from the shadows of late and really proved himself a producer of note. Here on Journeys Into The Realm Of Team 17 his fast-growing reputation will only be enhanced even further thanks to three tracks of genuine craft and style.

Steel City Fly By steals it for me. Based around a neatly muted kick, atmospheric pads that ebb and flow throughout and a generally spacey vibe that is fast becoming one of Parkinson’s hallmarks, it really is one satisfyingly chunky bastard of a track.

Continuing on an intergalactic tip is Hope For Enceladus [it’s the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, don’t cha know]. Once again there is an ethereal feel about it due in no small part to the burbling acid line, gorgeous floating pads and subtly searing synth stabs.

Final cut Byzantine Times is a perfect fit and fitting conclusion to another excellent offering from Contrast Wax. More laidback than the other cuts, yet with a touch more menace and purpose about it too, the cleverly-layered snare and synth lines ensure it is no mere filler. It’s a track that means business like the rest of this quality release.

Tip, as they say.

Check out:
Contrast Wax 08 @ Juno

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Arnheim – Foggy Silhouettes – Greta Cottage Workshop

IT’S been a real pleasure watching the talented young Arnheim break through.

Over the last couple of years the London-based baby-faced producer has emerged onto the British underground house scene with a slew of ear-catching releases and appearances on the likes of 12-3, Austere and Disrobe. Much of his inspiration comes from his impressive knowledge of and voracious appetite for jazz and having accompanied the young whippersnapper on a number of record shopping trips around the Smoke, it’s fair to say the boy knows his shit.

So while his latest outing on the always-excellent Great Cottage Workshop may not come entirely as a surprise to those who understand his modus operandi, it will certainly come as a pleasure and a welcome addition to many a vinyl collection.

The four-track Foggy Silhouettes EP is as much homage to smoke-filled dive bars of yesteryear as it is a 21st century take on sample-based house music. Either way, though, it’s damn good.

Citizen Advice is all about the satisfyingly weighty double bass and melancholic piano chords, a device Arnheim has employed before to great effect by plundering his record stack. The delightful One Beat is similar by design too, just a little more hushed and gentle with it, whilst Mild Silhouette Of A Man again deploys that same dusty jazz club motif but with the addition of a well-chosen Moodymann-esque vocal snatch that transcends the track to ‘what the bloody hell is this?’ level.

But the real standout for my money at least is the beauteous Viction. Although tailored from the same luxurious cloth as the other three cuts, the track is draped in even more heart-wrenching emotion and soul yet stitched together with a pleasing modern thread.

Defiantly different, respectfully retrospective and, without doubt, most excellent. A genuine go-buy of a record.

Check out:
Foggy Silhouettes @ Juno

Various Artists - Atmospheres EP2 – Batti Batti Records

HE’S a busy boy that Owen Jay.

Not content with yet another must-have release with long-time partner Melchior Sultana, this time on Deep Explorer [listen here], and a couple of side projects coming together as we speak, he’s also found room to fit in EP number 10 on his own lovely label, Batti Batti.

Understandably perhaps though, he’s taken a back seat on production this time round. Instead Jay has left Atmospheres 2 [check the excellent first in the series here] in the capable hands of three carefully handpicked artists both old and new to the imprint: Saverio Celestri, Jordan and Dan Mela.

Detroit Feeling from young Berlin-based Italian producer Celestri, who also appeared on the label’s Crossover EP, leads the way with a sparky and emotionally-intense little number heavily-influenced by the Motor City, as the name suggests, that leaves an overriding feeling of, well, Detroit.

By contrast, Device from Brooklyn-based Jordan (Finale Sessions/Ornate) making his label debut is a wonderfully dark, haunting and more dramatic track and showcases to perfection the skills which tempted the excellent Fred P into a collaboration on the Deep Explorer compilation, Far & Beyond.

Rounding off this thoroughly enjoyable EP is something of an unexpected treat. Tenuta Ken from the talented Dan Mela is an exceptional ten-minute tour de force featuring acclaimed Italian jazz pianist Stefano Calzolari, which brings together neatly Mela’s passion, predilection and proficiency for all things soul, funk and jazz. Nice.

Check out:
Atmospheres 2 @ Juno