Saturday 22 January 2022

M❤∞ - Celebrating DJ Mehdi

Ed Banger Records is a very important label to me, one of the first that I started following in earnest and one that was a huge influence on myself. My taste in art, fashion and of course electronic music as a whole owed a lot to the Ed Rec crew - part of the reason I ended up writing here in the first place is because as a teen I was hooked on Electro House. Ed Banger, among others, were (and are!) quality purveyors of the genre. While my days of blog surfing for the next hottest dancefloor destroyer are behind me, the memories I have still shine bright and come back from time to time - I still have my 'Cool Cats' snapback on my desk and even use the old Cool Cats logo as my avatar in a few places!

The Ed Rec crew of the past and present is a real who's who of the electronic world, which over the years has seen many huge names join the ranks: Mr. Oizo, SebastiAn, Brekabot, Feadz, DSL, Mr. Flash and of course, Justice to name but a few. Yet out of all of them, there is one man who means just a little more to me than the rest - Mehdi Favéris-Essadi, better known as DJ Mehdi. Mehdi is behind some of my favourite tunes ever from the label, he's the man behind the first ever album released on Ed Banger Records, the Electro / Hip Hop fusion of Lucky Boy. I remember loving every single picture of him playing live sets because he always looked like he was having an absolutely amazing time. In a lot of those pictures, label master Pedro Winter (Better known as Busy P) is usually there too, also grinning from ear to ear - that isn't something exclusive to Mehdi's live sets though, any time there was an event with a few of the Ed Rec folk playing you could usually spot him up there too. This camaraderie was something else I really admired about the Ed Banger squad, when they teamed up to do remixes or DJ sets under the 'Ed Banger Allstars' banner it was always going to be a real good time.

In September 2011, DJ Mehdi would pass away after an unfortunate accident. The whole thing felt surreal, Mehdi had just played live the weekend before, and I had already experienced the death of a musician I loved already that year with Trish Keenan of Broadcast. I remember getting so excited when former site owner Jordan got the chance to interview the man himself before I became part of the team. Condolences from contemporaries and institutions soon followed, you can see some of them archived here on a DJ Mag article from the time. It still feels fresh in my mind, to the point where I actually missed that it's been over 10 years since that all happened.

As cliché as it sounds, the beautiful thing is that whenever someone in the creative field passes, their work survives - and the Ed Banger crew have done plenty of work on that front. Loukoums, a previously super rare mixtape type thing Mehdi did in the vein of J Dilla's Donuts was published on Ed Banger's soundcloud not long after - a selection of demos and off cuts from the run up to Lucky Boy. It's a 40 minute crash course in Mehdi's unique brand of Electro and Hip Hop - one that made him a perfect fit for Ed Banger.

Some choice timestamps for you to get started: 6:40 is a great stripped back beat with some decidedly nervous synths and the transition into the next track at 8:15 is killer every single time, the fusion of sounds on show is incredible and when the beat drops at around the 8:44 I fall in love all over again. The sudden dunk into something a little more funky at 19:43 foreshadows the eventual collaboration with Chromeo that would appear on Lucky Boy proper in I Am Somebody. Head to 30:28 to hear some good old fashioned French House in that Daft Punk / Crydamoure style, but through a Mehdi lens. The variety on show here is just amazing, and only further cemented Mehdi's position as one of my all time favourite producers.

Which brings us to the actual reason I drafted up this post in the first place - just a few days ago, the world was treated to new release from Mehdi, he's not alone mind you, it's a collaboration between Busy P, Santigold and Benjamin Epps. The story behind this newest piece is worth a post on its own: Originally started as a jam session between P and Mehdi in a rented New York apartment on their MPC 2000 and 3000 respectively, it got saved, but then ended up lost along the way. Fast forward twenty years, and Busy P finds the floppy disk with the jam saved on it. Dusting it off and giving it a new coat of paint, we have the fittingly titled MPC 2021. In a way, it's like Mehdi was never gone - the sample has his hallmarks all over it and P has done an amazing job finishing it up. While I haven't been keeping up with all things Ed Banger in recent years, I immediately felt right back at home as soon as I hit play. Mixmag also did a great rundown of it and a little Q&A with Busy P that you can read here.

I thought I'd round out with a couple more of my favourite Mehdi tracks, starting with one that I must have heard thousands of times - one that is iconically Mehdi all over. Whenever I was trying to introduce folk to the world of Ed Banger, I would point them towards the Ed Rec compilations - when Vol. 3 came out, it became my go to example of what the crew were all about. Pocket Piano is one of many standouts from the tracklist, once again highlighting Mehdi's ear for samples. It's not quite the massive electro house bangers that come to mind when you think of the era, but it is one of the tunes I think embodies the real mixture of styles and genres that are woven into the DNA of the Ed Banger identity.

The orchestral version made for the 15th anniversary of Ed Banger, the fittingly French 15 Ans was a beautiful tribute. It appears alongside many other heavy hitters from the Ed Banger catalogue. An amazing feat if only for the difficulty of adapting some of those tunes to the orchestra format, at the same time though some of them like Pocket Piano feel much more suited to it. Watching it back now as I write this I couldn't help but smile as the iconic melody made its appearance, as the wave of realisation sweeps over the crowd and the cheers rise, it all combines to make something really incredible. I'll admit I was skeptical when it was all first announced, the whole 'playing electronic music with an orchestra' was done quite a bit around the time - an opinion coloured by many a 'Ibiza Club Classics' ones that I'd seen which ranged in quality quite a bit. In hindsight was more than a bit foolish, of course they were not going to cut corners with it, they only went and got the Orchestre Lamoureux!

And finally, I could never write up a post like this without mentioning Signatune. The original is a nice little interlude on Lucky Boy, a classic jam in the style of Loukoums above - nice enough on its own but the real highlight is a reworking of it that would appear on the Lucky Girl EP and later the Lucky Boy At Night re-release. A remix by someone you may have heard of: a one Thomas Bangalter. You may recognise his name from some house records as-is, but if the name doesn't ring any bells you may know him better as the silver half of Daft Punk. It's not super complicated, Bangalter just took the main hook of of Signatune and added a beat to it - but the end result is, and remains, potentially my favourite electro house tune of the era by some ways. To this day if and when it comes up on shuffle I take the time to revisit, and just for a few minutes I'm teleported back to that time in my life. An absolute monster of a tune by two legendary figures, one that I will be still as excited to hear another 10 years from now as I am now.

And that'll be all for now. I thought I'd take a different approach that just talking about the new tune. It's been fun looking back, it's been a long time since I've talked about Mehdi as well, so I figured I owed him at least that much. Ed Banger will forever an important step on my music listening career, and I love that they're still active to this day. As I've gone through the old archives and restored a whole heap of the old posts, it's been remarkable how many people have connected over a mutual love of Ed Banger over the years - hell, as I mentioned above I probably wouldn't be here writing this now if it weren't for them, and I'll forever be thankful for that.

I'm going to go on my own extended Mehdi retrospective now, going to start with his debut album (The Story Of) Espion and work forwards from there, my favourite from it is Anything Is Possible, which I think is a fitting note to end on.

Until next time, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


Tuesday 18 January 2022

Soichi Terada - Asakusa Light (Album Overview)

Flipping it 180 from last week's post, here we're talking something that is new! And also something I've not done in a long, long time to boot - an album overview. Much less of a review than my previous ones and more of a sort of first impression kinda deal, even though I've heard a couple bits from it and posted them already. At any rate, let's get stuck right in. Soichi Terada returns under his own name with Asakusa Light - a House record that's a throwback to the man's early works. If you're at all familiar with them then you know what to expect, but if you're not: Expect thudding kicks, deep house basslines and deliciously retro brassy flourishes as heard here on a Terada production from 1989!

Tracks like that weren't my introduction to Terada however, like many others it was his Drum & Bass work for the soundtrack to the original Ape Escape that pointed me in his direction - a gig that he got becuase one of the folks working on it was a big fan of his Sumo Jungle release. A solid release in its own right, and home to some of my favourites from his D&B side. The intro track is a preview of the whole album and if you like what's on show there, seek out the whole thing, you won't be disappointed. The soundtrack for Ape Escape is one of those that is sort of emblematic of the era - the late's 90's where everything was super sleek hi-tech low-poly. I'm more than willing to admit a lot of my love for it is tinted with nostalgia - I will stand by some of the tunes on there being real nice even on their own though. But enough history, let's talk about this latest piece!

Terada certainly hasn't been a stranger - he's consistently been putting out tunes on his own Far East Recording label for many a year by now, both by himself and others. I've been a long time admirer of his work but it can be a little tricky to get hold of from time to time. After a re-issuing of a bunch of vintage tracks on a compilation fittingly called Sounds From The Far East on Rush Hour Music, there's been a renewed buzz about Terada and his House works - which leads us to now, as Asakusa Light is released on the same label.

I was excited to get started as I have loved the two sample tracks out there already, and with 9 more ahead of me there was surely plenty to enjoy. Silent Chord starts things off with a nervous sci-fi style synth - it does take a little while to get going but it all pays off around the 1:33 mark when the proper bassy stabs of old are unleashed. I can see some being frustrated that it doesn't build to a proper House style payoff, but as an introduction to the experience I think it works real well - it sets up the next few at the very least. I've already talked at length recently about how I fell in love with Double Spire from the get go, I just adore the pitch bends on show, and the whole thing is almost designed to have all my favourite Deep House elements in it. Just wonderful.

The same goes for Bamboo Fighter - the first of the two preview tracks. That one plays out more like a piece from his early Far East Recording album with Shinichiro Yokota, but still with feet firmly planted in the world of Deep House. Perhaps leaning a little too hard into that eastern influence for some but I think it's pretty tastefully done, Terada certainly has experience merging the electronic with the traditional sound to a more extreme degree with his Omodaka project after all.

Diving Into Minds continues the trend, grabbing me from the offset with its swirling intro. I've seen a lot of people say that this album feels quite videogame-y in parts, it's a comparison I'd been trying to avoid just because I didn't want folk to come in expecting either the chiptune of Terada's Omodaka project or the out and out D&B of Ape Escape. But as the album goes on it gets increasingly difficult to ignore that connection and, thinking back on it now, it would be foolish to suggest that wasn't at least a partial influence on the process for Terada. The textures and composition on show here most certainly feel like they would be right at home in that early 3D era, none more so than the brief incursion of some old skool piano stabs at 2:36 that feel like they belong on a 'Results' screen.

It's a theme that continues, with Marimbau feeling like a menu theme for one of those slightly weird psychedelic puzzle games of the era. With the stripped back approach and liberal use of of-the-era drum machines, it certainly imitates the technical limitations of early CD audio to boot. This one in particular reminds me a little of the throwback influence artists like ThorHighHeels display, in that it's a very earnest display of love for the aesthetic - though THH's is more firmly rooted in the videogame world, Terada's work here is more of a love letter to house with some of that flavour as an addition.

I don't meant to give the impression that it's formulaic mind you, going by Terada's own quotes from the Bandcamp page it's been quite the experience getting back into the groove of making again: "I didn’t even know what I thought about myself five years ago, and the mental metabolic cycle seems to be faster than I thought. I tried different methods, including digging up my old MIDI data and composing by remembering old experiences." - a quote that I totally empathise with. Takusambient is the most obvious of the tracks that show that influence, the 8-bit lead synth should clue you in on that from the get go. I gave the album a quick run through on mobile a little while back, but I ended up stopping around here because I figured I'd give it a run with better output - and I was right, tracks like this reveal a lot more depth now I'm sampling it on a decent set of headphones.

Next up we have a real highlight - a sort of cover of a tune called Soaking Wet circa 1995 - can't say I've heard of it before (shoutout to that one Discogs reviewer that clued me in on that!) but one that certainly makes sense given Terada's wheelhouse. That goes double for the remix of it from the same LP, which feels very much like Terada's own productions, albeit a little more bouncy I feel. I do like it when artists do that, gives yo u a real insight into their influences and points you in the direction of stuff you might not have heard before (See Felix Da Housecat's version of Space's Magic Fly for one good example). Soaking Dry is, like the source material it's referencing, a much more upbeat beast than the previous examples. It nicely bridges the gap between the Deep House we've heard so far and this new direction: Terada's style is very clearly on show here with lush background instrumentation and choice flourishes throughout - as the intro gives way to the 4/4 about the 15 second mark you can't help but start toe tappin' along with it.

One final highlight for the road and the sole collaboration piece for the LP - Runners. In hindsight I was maybe expecting a couple more collaborations to appear on here as there have been many a notable one between Terada, such fellow Far East Recording label-mate Shinichiro Yokota. Still, from the credits alone this one was looking promising as it features Manabu Nagayama, who twinned with Terada on Low Tension in 1991, one of the tracks that made the cut on Rush Hour's reissue compilation Sounds From The Far East. The two are clearly having a lot of fun here, after a slightly sleepy intro it's not long before we're back in the House yet again. The real highlight here is the super old school MIDI as hell pan flute melody, I couldn't help but crack a smile the first time it came in, it's just such a perfect encapsulation of the album's MO and most importantly - as fun to listen to as they probably had making it.

Here's hoping this means more from the man in the future, (though like I mentioned back at the top he's never really stopped either!) I've loved hearing him return to this sound. It's a great little album, one that runs the risk of getting a bit stale due to the simplicity of it, but that could also be a factor of me giving it a pretty intense listen over the past few days as I write this - still, I've been enjoying my time with it, it's had me groovin' around the House (no pun intended!). I like to think of it as the musical equivalent of a garnish, chuck these in your playlists to get a little bit of variety in there - the preview tracks are probably still my favourites, but there is a lot to love here.

I did catch myself thinking at points that Terada might throw in a vocal at some point to complete that Sunshower connection - and part of me still thinks some of these tracks would benefit from that, but at the same time I admire the man for just going back to basics and making a pure House record. If he decides to do the same for his D&B work somewhere down the line I will be all over that - perhaps a reissue of Sumo Jungle, or the slightly more obscure Acid Face? The latter of which I highly recommend if your favourite is his Ape Escape OST work, the two are very similar!

And that'll be all for this time, it's been a while since I've done a big post like this! It's been fun but took a little longer than I expected, I have something else potentially lined up for later this week so I should be back before long. Until then, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


Friday 7 January 2022

What's New?

I was hoping to make the first post of 2022 all new stuff or at least a good 60-40 at least. I don't think I've managed to even hear anything new yet come to think of it, but I also haven't really been trying too hard either as I get back into the swing of working again. With no word on Bandcamp Fridays for 2022 either I am going to have to try a little harder to come up with stuff it seems! So I had an idea instead, what if I went back and talked about the first things I got off Bandcamp instead? And so here we are.

Juan Gris - La Guitare (1913)

Predictably, a lot of my early purchases were indie soundtracks. BC is still a goldmine for that sort of thing, and it's a really great resource to not only support the artists in question but also get high quality versions of the sounds too - sometimes the soundtracks included on the Steam releases are 192 or VBR. Enter Faster Than Light, better known as just FTL. One of those releases from the golden age of indie games; those small ideas that spin out into something relentlessly addictive, with the added bonus of being able to run on your office-quality PC to boot. Part of what makes the FTL experience so iconic is the soundtrack from Ben Prunty - he makes spectacular use of recurring motifs throughout that really enhance the experience. I had to put the OST away for a while after playing the game for so long, but I'd be lying if I said I ever grew to dislike it. Rather than a deep cut I've gone for what I think best summarises this, one of the earliest tracks in the game - the 'Battle' variation of the MilkyWay theme: Gorgeous and suitably spacey. It doesn't quite sound the same without the pew pew of lasers and the occasional chunk of a missile launch though!

My next few trips were similarly influenced, a couple of fan works related to some series I enjoyed. Echochamber's I'm Real, I'm Here has a lot of influence taken from Serial Experiments Lain, a surreal, psychological exploration into the world of the technological circa 1998 - parts of which have only become more apt with time. But I don't mean to put you off, you can very much enjoy this album without knowing a thing about the series - besides the cover art and some samples there's no super deep cuts that you need to be a fan of to recognise. I'm Real, I'm Here is a bit of an odd record - it leaps from genre to genre over the course of it's runtime, it could be thudding minimal-esque house one minute, and then change gears to long vaporwave-y drones the next. Thought I'd split the difference this time around and post Symbols, Figures And Blurred Faces as it effectively merges those two sides of the album; an almost Burial style experience, it's made up of a bunch of short 'sketches' that run between a whole bunch of styles. A great little summary of the album in one track, if you like this then I would strongly recommend checking out the full thing.

Funnily enough actually, my next Bandcamp purchase was in fact the Burial track I had in mind when making that comparison above. After playing the hell out of an MP3 of the B-Side to Truant since my University days I figured I at least owed the man a couple of quid. Rough Sleeper is almost a quarter of an hour tour de force of Burial, it might be my ultimate favourite from his extensive back-catalogue. I struggle to pin down the section I like the most as it changes pretty often, the intro is lovely but I also have a real love for the almost Garage bit that starts around the 4 minute mark (which I will hold my hands up and admit is more than a bit influenced by my love of treated vocals). That section is by far and away the longest, and the way it fades away into that little ambient break around the 9:25 mark is lovely (that section is my current love!) Before rounding off with some proper 2-step around 10:45. It's a lot to take in, but aside from the sudden stop at the end I have no complaints. Not sure I'd recommend it for a new listener to Burial, but if you like the first couple of minutes you would do well to take a look at his whole discography.

And I think that'll do it for today. I hope 2022 has been treating you all well, mine's had a bit of a rocky start, but after the last year or so it's hardly a big deal. Either way, you can count on me to be here with more musical musings on a semi-regular basis - hope you've enjoyed this look back at my digital catalogue and as always - Stay safe and enjoy the music.