Claire Sawers

Freelance Writer

Tag: techno

Album review: Karen Gwyer, Rembo

Resident Advisor
18 July 2017

Karen Gwyer
(Don’t Be Afraid)
3.8 stars

album artwork Karen Gwyer Rembo

Occupying the spaces between weirdo body music and kaleidoscopic, live improv techno, Karen Gwyer’s output has always been as individual as it is danceable. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan and now based in London, Gwyer is a relatively late-starter in music production, which only adds to her charms. Having used a marriage breakdown as a reason to escape into the experimental, psychedelic hinterlands of Britain’s music scene, Gwyer has spent the past five or so years dabbling in acid, avant-garde, noise, house and techno, depending on her mood, and the gear she’s playing around with at the time.

Rembo, her first album on the UK label, Don’t Be Afraid is an excellent example of her bendy, melodic, colourful approach to music making. There are layers of Helena Hauff’s complex textures as well as Drexciya’s foreboding and pummelling beats across the eight tracks, but the style shimmering, odd, hard is all her own. This album (her third, after Needs Continuum and Kiki the Wormhole, both from 2013) feels like it’s designed as much for the brain and the mind’s eye as the feet. Way less lo-fi and analogue sounding than the bendy, trippier stuff she did on Opal Tapes (Kiki the Wormhole), and shorter than the beautiful, long techno soundscapes on her 2014 No Pain In Pop EP (“New Roof”) she’s moved away from noise and drone tropes towards slicker, digital and more immediate dancefloor sounds.

On Rembo, she shows off her broad approach to body music, taking it into pummelling, rushy techno territory (“He’s Been Teaching Me To Drive”), dropping in an oddball digital symphony (“It’s Not Worth The Bother”) and adding a 90s Detroit house throwback, with a computer game synthline (“The Workers are on Strike”). She’s always had fun with her track titles in the past (who knows what the joke was with “Lay Claim to My Grub” or “No Moondoggies for 3 Weeks”), and this one’s no different. This time the titles might give clues to her politics as well as nicely shifting things away from the po-faced machismo that can sometimes dominate her field of work. For example, the slow-build, kosmische opener “Why Is There A Line In Front of The Factory” is answered with the next track, “The Workers Are On Strike”. And “He’s Been Teaching Me To Drive” replies to the question on the track before, “Why Does Your Father Look So Nervous”; a pair of tracks which make up two standout moments on the album, where complex and fun kicks and claps lead into more insistent, higher BPM spasms. It’s a moreish album of hedonism with moments of softness, showing again that she’s a smart artist who can master many machines and styles.

Read the review on Resident Advisor, here


Interview: Jimi Tenor recalls making techno documentary Sähkö The Movie

Ahead of a rare screening in Glasgow, the director shares his memories of filming the 90s techno documentary

Jimi Tenor

The List
18 Feb 2015

Only the few will have seen Sähkö The Movie – regarded among certain technoheads as the ‘Holy Grail of electronic music documentaries’. Rarely screened live, besides the odd special event like Sonar festival, or a night at MoMA in New York, it’s coming to Glasgow for its 20th anniversary, and a special event in the Glasgow Short Film Festival. Although many won’t have laid eyes on it, there’s a chance some Scottish readers (especially clubbers of a certain vintage) could be in the film.

Jimi Tenor, director of the 44-minute documentary, and semi-legendary Finnish techno producer turned pop/jazz musician, remembers the mid-nineties trip to Glasgow where some of the film was made.

‘Keith [McIvor, aka JD Twitch) had his club at the Barrowlands – Pure. He invited me over for that which was a lot of fun. They liked a track of mine, ‘Take Me Baby’. It reminded him of Suicide and we all liked Suicide. Anyway, they liked it and released a 12” on their label [T&B] in 1995.’ (Warp Records later re-released it, and Hudson Mohawke covered it.)

‘After that Keith and I have stayed in touch, and worked on other events like Optimo and the Venice Biennale since.’

Two decades on, Tenor’s been invited back to screen his documentary at Glasgow’s Glue Factory, and play a live set, with support from the inimitable Golden Teacher.

‘It might be quite weird for Glasgow audiences to watch,’ says Tenor of his film, shot in 16mm and newly restored digitally. ‘Some of the clothes are quite funny, and it’s interesting to see the streets, the Barrowlands, a pool hall; how the city has changed since then.’

‘It’s a bit like a road movie, or a music video; there’s very little dialogue,’ explains Tenor, who was a key player on Finnish ultra-minimalist techno label, Sähkö Recordings (sähkö means ‘electricity’), founded by Tommi Grönlund in 1993. The film follows Tenor and labelmates, the excellent Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen (solo artists who performed together as Pan(a)sonic), as they share their ultra-sparse techno, weird noise music and self-made instruments with the world.

‘The quality is rough, but I think the Super 8 format is lovely. It was always supposed to be like that, but it’s not like, I don’t know … Harry Potter quality.’

‘It’s a piece of history now,’ he laughs. ‘It’s about those times, and the completely weird outfits we wore, those big plastic glasses I wore – and still wear now. The main idea behind what we were doing was to make something simple, nothing fancy. But we wanted it to be something hopefully a bit strange, and surprising.’

‘In those days the laptop thing hadn’t happened,’ he goes on. ‘We were using really heavy hardware back then. Sometimes my kit would weigh about 20 kilos. These days, flight luggage restrictions don’t even let you travel with that anymore! Back then they’d allow much more but I’d still board planes wearing three jackets, and all the pockets were stuffed with cables.’

Although Sähkö has earned cult status in some electronic music circles, Tenor stresses that a lot of the elements that fans love about the label’s sound sometimes came about through necessity, as much as design.

‘The equipment we were using wasn’t rare at the time – we just used what was cheap. Nowadays some of the bits have become really expensive, but it certainly wasn’t back then. We used unfashionable, second-hand, analogue stuff. It was a good moment for us to get hold of it – just as it was becoming out of step and they were switching gradually to new, digital equipment.

‘The main idea was that it was very simple, not complicated, so the audience could understand the system going on, and how roughly it had been made. I find often when people do stuff with laptops now, using a lot of samplers, the whole thing gets quite complicated. You listen, and it’s like, “what exactly is going on here?”. You can’t tell what was done at home, what’s happening live, when they are just pressing play … With our stuff, when something happened, you could see it happening. There was a live, improvised, noise side to what we did onstage, for sure.’

‘Obviously we wanted it to provide entertainment. It was always supposed to be enjoyable, just not in a predictable way. Now I may be a hippie with long hair, but I won’t be having an early night. I still hope to have a good party on the dancefloor in Glasgow. Of course I do – I’m still alive!’

Strange Electricity, The Glue Factory, Glasgow, Sat 14 Mar, part of Glasgow Short Film Festival.;

Read the interview at The List here.  View photos from the anniversary screening here.

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