Gunnar Wendel is one of a kind. The artist, better known as Kassem Mosse, has been producing outer space techno and house since 2006. Based out of Leipzig — a smaller, sleepier neighbor of Berlin — and affiliated mainly with Workshop, a record label that specializes in pristine minimal house music, Kassem Mosse works at his own pace, ignores press, and plays live infrequently. Why, then, has he become such a beloved figure amongst nearly every subcommunity within underground electronic music?
Listen to his music and the answer is obvious. Full of alien textures and cavernous atmosphere, Mosse sounds like nobody else and nobody else sounds like him. His music is emphatically his own. It's rooted in techno, but borrows off-kilter beats from hip-hop and IDM (Autechre was a key inspiration) and the soulful, heart-rending melodies of the finest deep house.
A Mosse live set is a rare treat, heavily improvised and more dynamic than his records. He's joined by Olin, a clued-in Chicago producer and DJ on the rise, local producer Roche, and more.
Other worthy parties this week
Honey Soundsystem presents Red Axes at Mighty, 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Friday, March 18. $15-$20; mightysf.club.
Over the last decade, disco got really strange. In fact, the music in question isn't disco, but its lineage owes much to disco's slower tempo and funky, groovy nature. Labels like ESP Institute, Public Possession, and Hivern Discs have pushed this sound, which owes as much to post-punk and new wave as it does disco. Red Axes, a duo from Tel Aviv, are one of its most exciting purveyors, debuting in San Francisco alongside Honey Soundsystem residents.
Lights Down Low featuring Roman Flügel at Monarch, 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday, March 18. $20; monarchsf.com.
Roman Flügel is a techno chameleon, a multitalented, prodigious artist who has been producing essential techno, IDM, deep house, and electro since the early 1990s. The mastermind behind three record labels, Flügel's output is remarkable for its breadth and quality — everything he touches is golden. He's also a stellar DJ, regularly headlining festivals worldwide, with selections reaching back to Kraftwerk through to contemporary techno and house. Here, he plays a small club with excellent sound.
MNML:FUN presents Bleie and Normalien at Underground SF, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday, March 18. Free before 11 p.m., $5 after; undergroundsf.com.
MNML:FUN is a new-ish monthly party dedicated to minimal techno and its kith and kin. This time around they're featuring live performances from two local artists, Bleie (whose excellent techno single, Anaamnesis, I reviewed on Feb. 24) and Normalien, both of whom will be performing modular synthesizer sets. Now, modular techno tends to be anything but minimal, but that's okay; let yourself be enveloped in its warm embrace. MNML:FUN DJs will close out the night.
Sure Thing presents Kyle Hall, Jay Daniel, and more at F8, 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Saturday, March 19. $15; feightsf.com.
Techno and Detroit are practically synonymous — we have Motor City to thank for the genre itself, after all. When people think “Detroit techno,” they usually think of the old guard (Jeff Mills, Derrick May, Drexciya, etc.). However, contemporary Detroit producers are modernizing the techno blueprint. Kyle Hall and Jay Daniel are two young artists blurring the line between house and techno with soulful, groovy productions. They're bringing Detroit to SF, alongside rising Londoner Seb Wildblood.
Local Artist Spotlight: Russell E.L. Butler
Russell E.L. Butler, a Bermuda-born, Oakland-based artist, has spent the past several years tirelessly performing live electronic music all across the Bay — at art galleries, museums, dive bars, nightclubs, house parties, warehouse parties, and beyond. He creates a kind of worldly techno, as equally concerned with pushing the genre's limits as making people dance. In short, Butler is one of the most talented electronic musicians in the Bay Area — a fully-fledged artist whose cusp is on the upswing.
Butler's musical career began early in life, which led to jazz band and jamming with friends, but his musical slant left him somewhat isolated. “Not many folks in Bermuda were into the music I wanted to play, so I wrote a bunch of weird songs by myself,” Butler explains. “When it comes to making music, I've mostly been solo.”
He discovered electronic music in college and then moved to the Bay soon after, sustaining himself on moody, brooding tunes (including “a lot of Sisters of Mercy,” he says.) “I didn't know many folks in the music /scene when I moved here, so I just kept making music that reflected what I listened to at the time,” explains Butler. “Eventually, minimal wave and EBM began reemerging in the Bay Area. I wasn't much into dance music until I heard these kinds of music at San Francisco parties like Warm Leatherette and 120 Minutes” — parties that thrived circa 2010, focusing on post-punk, EBM, so-called witch house, and goth.
His early work as Black Jeans reflects this, featuring rollicking minimal wave that harks back to '70s and '80s synth-punk. Something of a sea change occurred in 2014 when he self-released a cassette of techno experiments under his own name, entitled Constructions. “I work very hard at sounding like me,” says Butler. “I can't pinpoint exactly what it is that's supposed to sound like — it's always shifting.”
After Constructions, something shifted indeed. Reduced, elegant, emotional, and exploring rhythm's outer limits, Constructions is the sound of an artist finding his voice, and it's an enlightening listen. In 2015 came God Is Change, his debut album on cult U.K. label Opal Tapes (recently selected by NPR Music as one of their 10 best electronic albums of 2015), a brilliant work of twisted techno. Where Constructions was tentative and exploratory, God is confident and evocative. “I'm inspired by current events, sci-fi, issues of race, gender, identity, and power,” Butler says, and it shows.
Coming next is another cassette on Detroit label Jacktone, followed by a 12″ on Opal Tapes sublabel Black Opal, both in April (with an Apr. 22 release party with former Bay Area legend Kid606). And after that? “I want to play in Bermuda again,” Butler says. “I want to find a way to create space for Bermudians as artists in this world.”
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