Dance Tracks of the Week: More From New York’s Mysterious, Pricey White Material Collective
Plus Container remixes Four Tet, Tom Middleton goes raving, and DMX Krew get pastoral
White Material, White Material (White Material)
The hype on some of this shit is getting out of control. I ordered the fourth and latest 12-inch from New York’s White Material crew from Honest Jon’s two weeks ago for the retail price of £9.99 plus shipping. Today, the asking prices for the two copies on Discogs are $65 and $75, respectively. (The same range goes for the label’s first two releases, released in August and December 2012; the third can be had for a bargain $37.) By now, we all know the drill. The collective was virtually unknown until late last year. Clips on SoundCloud, a DJ set of all-original material from member Galcher Lustwerk, ensuing Twitter buzz, and limited supply helped drive demand. It helps, too, that their whole self-avowed “Working Man’s Techno” aesthetic is tailor-made to trigger an almost Pavolvian response amid the underground cognoscenti, from their scruffy analog sound to the hand-stamped white labels. (Let’s give them credit, too, for having some of the most intriguing names in the business right now: Galcher Lustwerk, Young Male, and the almost comically downplayed DJ Richard.)
The resale prices aren’t necessarily White Material’s fault. Most new labels do limited runs for entirely economic reasons, and Internet hype hardly started with these guys. They sound, too, like level-headed dudes, at least judging from a recent Lustwerk interview in The Quietus. They’ve all spent time in Providence, and you can hear something of that in the music — nothing like a Fort Thunder vibe, of course, but that sense of inventing things on their own terms — and as far as the mainstream dance-music infrastructure goes, they’re coming at it from outside the system.
After one release apiece from Young Male, DJ Richard, and Galcher Lustwerk, this fourth installment is credited simply to White Material. It’s unclear whether all four tracks are solo joints or collaborative efforts, but it sounds more like a compilation. “1 Does Not Kno” is the most traditional selection here, and maybe the most underwhelming: It’s just a single loop of drum machine, sampled percussion, and a chord teased and filtered for five minutes, after the fashion of contemporary producers like DJ Qu and the Swedish loop-techno scene of the late 1990s. (That said, it sounds amazing — full, driving, hypnotic — and it could well come to life on a dance floor in ways that it doesn’t in your living room.) “Problems,” more in the vein of something you might hear on Workshop or any number of Dutch labels, is slower and more stripped back, relying on spindly hi-hats, crisp claps, rubbery chord stabs, and a twinge of acid; it’s unrepentantly no-frills, but the focus works in its favor.
The B-side is more exciting: There’s a palpable sense of dread in its lunging bass zaps and queasy sample-and-hold trills, and a looped voice in the background (“Check it out… Check it out…”) eggs on the intensity; Nonplus and Hinge Finger vibes abound. But it’s the closing “Put On” that really does the trick, with gauzy chords and steely machine hits that strike the perfect balance between soft and hard, while Lustwerk delivers husky, hypnotic rapping over the top. Even listeners allergic to hype will find it hard to deny that there’s something special going on here. Let’s just hope White Material goes digital — or at least gets with the re-press, already, and cuts off those Discogs vultures at the knees. After all, “Working Man’s Techno” don’t mean squat if actual working folk can’t get their hands on the records.
Silkie, Distal & Mite, “Something Wrong With Daisy” (Sound of the Cosmos)
Much of Tom Middleton’s output over the past five years has gravitated toward the softer, chic-er sides of house and chillout, but that’s clearly not the case with the first release on his new Sound of the Cosmos label. As you might expect, given his broad tastes, the EP has a little bit of everything: dramatically collapsing bass music from Jabru; ethereal drum’n’bass from Forgold; stealthy garage from Sapience; and this bracing headcleaner of an anthem from Silkie, Distal, and Mite. Built around a cheeky sample of Basement Jaxx’s “Romeo,” it starts off at a quick-stepping four-to-the-floor illuminated by flashing tambourines and muted rave stabs, morphs into stripped-down dubstep, and from there whips itself into a gale-force acid techno maelstrom. Mite’s “Daisy’s from Chicago Edit” follows a similar course, but dubbier and druggier. It’s the VIP mix from Middleton that really tears the roof off. As gunshots give way to sirens, the tempo shifts to 160 beats per minute, and the whole thing turns into a frenzied footwork beast, like a hell-bent Transformer assembling itself from the shards of the hardcore continuum.
Four Tet, “Kool FM (Container Remix)” (Text Records)
Four Tet’s “Kool FM” pays tribute to London’s pirate radio stations of the 1990s, as well as the jungle that flourished there. Leave it to Providence, Rhode Island’s Container to turn that Semper fi salute to breakbeats into a defiant semper lo-fi. Over the original’s lumpy boom-tick beat (with its shades of early Herbert), Container piles on analog squeals and the overdriven drum machines that are his damaged stock in trade. It gathers force as it goes, just barely holding together beneath crushing waves of feedback. It’s as bracing, mean, and ugly as his records for Spectrum Spools and Morphine Records, once again underscoring the irony of his chosen alias: There’s no container capable of holding in this kind of chaos. (That said, let’s hope that Four Tet presses this up on 12-inch.)
DMX Krew, Reith Trax (No ‘Label’)
Electronic music can often be raw, unpolished, and proudly autodidactic, but surprisingly little of it is self-consciously naïve. Aphex Twin does it well (just think of “Flim” or “Milkman”), and his Rephlex label sometimes veered in that direction. DMX Krew (a.k.a. Ed DMX), who put out a slew of records on Rephlex, evinces a wonderfully childlike sensibility on his new record for Rush Hour’s vinyl-only No ‘Label’ arm. Just get a load of those titles: “Hammock Yard,” “Trees Are Dancing,” and “Woodpile,” all evoking youthful romps around the country house.
In part, that’s because the album was made during just such a romp — on an Austrian farm, to be specific, “cables round the place and into the woods-style,” as the head of the label explained it to me. As is his wont, DMX Krew favors the rhythms and sounds of classic electro and synth pop — Kraftwerk, Y.M.O., the Human League, Mantronix — but instead of the usual sense of knowingness you get from such backwards-looking fare, there’s a real sense of wonder here, as though this were the first time he’d ever twisted a knob and heard two oscillators slip shiveringly out of tune. There’s no shortage of brightly chiming melodies and crisp, unfussy machine rhythms; “Guest House” and “Woodpile” both veer into eerier territory familiar from Rephlex classics like Vibert/Simmonds’ 20-year-old Weirs, full of trilling bleeps and glassy DX tones, while “Kitchen Bench” offers a hand-soldered take on footwork, with soft-edged sawtooth tones bouncing like a rubber ball. For all the record’s frequent understatement, the sound is vast and enveloping.