Monday, March 01, 2004
I thought Phillip Sherburne was spot on with his discussion of microhouse "putting on weight", especially his focus on Areal Records. A year since its release, Bis Neun still sounds frequently mindblowing to me, the wonky bass-driven grooves of tracks like Metope's "Selvsyn" or Konfekt's "Jez(sof)" impacting with a visceral force that's hard to match with either politer or more straightforward variants on the electro-techno-house template. Not that I've heard anything the label's done since then, but Phillip's raving has filled me with hope. So much of the "micro"-house I've connected with lately has put a lot of emphasis on profane basslines: think the quirky groans of Le Dustsucker's "Mandate My Ass" and "Love Me", the blundering booty-spasms of Robag Wruhme and the Wighnomy Bros, the storming heavy metal shuffletech of T. Raumschmiere's "Monstertruckdriver" and especially the riveting robotic funk of the second half of Koivikko's "Eucalyptus" mix.

I toyed with suggesting that there was a polarity emerging within the broader microhouse community between a funky techno track-quirkiness and neuromantic songfulness; I discarded the idea because too much (perhaps even most) of the actual records defy such a scheme. Where does Ricardo Villalobos fit? Or Magnet's neo-trance? Or... but you know the drill. One more likely scenario however is a shift away from house: whereas in 2000 the disco influence was one of microhouse's most obvious calling cards, increasingly producers (and my ears) seem to be pulled towards more mechanical grooves, whether it's the plump, fleshy techno that Areal specialise in, or a slightly more intricate take on stiff electro-house, or chilly goth melodrama. House's sensuosness was initially a reinvigorating force for these tech-heads, but I get the sense now that it's been almost drained of the life-force it offered, and German producers are hunting, vampire-like, for other sources of inspiration. (the example of Force Tracks is telling here: they've all but tied their mast to full-blown house and, Luomo excepted, they've suffered from a pretty big drop-off over this past year). Like any good rule, there are many exceptions: the sleazy disco of Captain Comatose at their best ("Price Gun Baby", "$100", "Complete Gold") is merely one. And I'm not sure how much of this scenario is in fact real and how much is merely a result of my own listening habits currently (eg. I've been listening to the Spiecher mix heaps and it sounds brilliant all of a sudden).

Maybe microhouse is at the point now that UK Garage was at in 2001, where the R&B influences were becoming more and more subtle, with all the sonic "lessons" learnt at a groove level and the more obvious signifiers being replaced by ideas from dancehall, hip hop, techno (but prior to the "Pulse X" groove-flip, when the basic structure of the music actually mutated quite radically). The sense I get from Areal tracks and other stuff like them is that the producers have listened to house a lot, experimented with it a lot, and no longer need to be too strict about wearing their house love on their sleeves because it's so amply present in the construction of the grooves. This could go badly - remember dubstep's swift descent into blandness - but right now there's an invigorating muscularity to a lot of what I'm hearing that I'm really connecting with.

A great little sampler of what I'm talking about is John Spring's excellent 12" Dispo Dancer. I first heard John Spring on that Koivikko mix, his track "Do You Like That?" the clear highlight of the mix in terms of "peak moment" status. There's little that's intelligent or subtle about this track: punishing 4/4 beats, an enormously dirty bottom-heavy bassline, electro zaps and a sleazy voice murmuring "I like that!" Jettisoning the MRI model of hyper-intricacy, Spring (real name Johannes Mai) and producers like him maintain microhouse's emphasis on unexpectedness by setting up more basic groove-conflicts: here it's between the rigid beat and the slothful bass, an enormously fat rhino dragging its haunches across the floor. This is to traditional microhouse what "Shake Ya Ass" is to "Are You That Somebody?" Which is not to say that Spring's production is rudimentary - extending the Neptunes analogy, there's a deceptive simplicity to this track's central groove which obscures the obsessive amount of detail lurking under the surface. Most importantly, "Do You Like That?" is anthemic, its final home-run a glorious explosion of syncopated synth riffs (working against both the bass and the beat) which inspires any number of copulation based metaphors - but a good comparison point is the brazen sexuality of Daft Punk's "Da Funk" and Etienne De Crecy's "Am I Wrong?". In fact "Do You Like That?" is pretty much a perfect example of the French House/German House/Electro fusion I was calling for a few months ago.

The rest of Dispo Dancer is almost as great: "Strange" is a disco-techno slow burner, its minimal but pummelling groove gradually ambushed and overrun by a small army of groove-disruptions and bas clusters, while a creepy voice intones "Have you ever wakened to hear sounds like these? It reminds me of Akufen at his most physical and least smug, and almost matches the latter's all-time classic "The Unexpected Guest" for nervous funkiness. "Schoen's War" starts off as an initially low-key, gloopy shuffletech number, but its distressed floundering becomes increasingly melodramatic as its malformed paws sweep all sorts of synth whines and sonic particles into its own path. As with the Wighnomy Bros' marvellous "Bodyrock", it tells a story of failure met by ever more frenzied persistence: the shuffle-beat's evocation of genetic mutation and palsied thrashing no longer merely a feature but now the very purpose of the groove's construction. I could wish it was a bit more extraverted melodically, but nonetheless there's a sick compulsion to this sort of stuff, like watching the faltering struggles of a poisoned fly, wings flapping uselessly in distress. And while, unlike "Do You Like That", it doesn't seek peak-track status, there's something brazenly physical about both "Schoen's War" and "Strange": a thick, cellulite-riddled hip-centricism that keeps your feet planted firmly on the dancefloor.

As such descriptions should imply, this music is ill at ease with the term "micro", but that just leads me to wonder: if you can have thrillingly inventive grooves and mentalist dancefloor energy, why wouldn't you be making house or techno in this style? Haterz have always painted microhouse as house without the fun, but this is some of the funnest, most physically tactile and viscerally exciting dance music going around right now. It would be ignoring it that would seem hopelessly, terminally furrow-browed.



By Blogger Roberto Iza, at 9/17/2007 11:15 AM  

Wow Tim, what would I do without you? Yet again you've managed to get me hugely excited about music I previously knew nothing about. This stuff is so much better than bassline.

By Anonymous Keith, at 7/09/2008 2:26 PM  

woops, that comment was meant for your funky house piece!

By Anonymous Keith, at 7/10/2008 1:52 AM  

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