If you had to pick a single record label that has done more to further the cause of underground electronic music than any other, Daniel Miller's Mute Records would be the obvious choice.
Launched in 1978 with the release of “Warm Leatherette” by The Normal (a.k.a. Miller himself) — the 7″ which single handedly broke the synth-punk sound — the label went on to explore the frontiers of punk, post-punk, industrial, synth-pop, new wave, body music, techno, and so much more.
In short, the world of music as we know it today would sound very different had it not been for Miller and Mute's efforts. To celebrate the closing of this year's Noisepop Festival, Daniel Miller will be making an extremely rare appearance at Monarch this Sunday. What will it sound like? It's hard to say, exactly, although techno will likely be the focal point.
But with almost 40 years' worth of underground music history under his belt, anything is possible. Miller and Mute are legends for a reason. This will be one for the books.
Other worthy parties this week
Love U Down presents DJ Spinn and DJ Earl at Brix 581 (Oakland), 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27. $12-$15; epoplife.com/event/1091823.
DJ Spinn and DJ Earl, juke and footwork innovators from Chicago, have been slingin' the footwork sound — that is, staccato, fast (160 bpm) sub-bass hyperrhythms punctuated by cut-up, disembodied vocal samples — since the '90s. Several years ago, the rest of the world caught up, and footwork became a global phenomenon. A slew of imitators followed, but the Teklife crew — of which Spinn and Earl are key members — remain at the top of the footwork game.
Hot On The Heels of Love featuring Sean Pierce at The Basement, 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 25. $5-$10; thebasementsf.com.
If you don't recognize Sean Pierce's name, that's okay. The Portland-based musician is better known (in certain circles) as half of the clumsily-titled duo ASSS, purveyors of strange, uncompromising techno with gritty, ominous sound design. Pierce recently released a solo album on Italy's Mannequin Records, and it's a doozy, featuring industrial-derived analog techno with two experimental interludes. Here, he plays live, offering up left-of-center dance music in an intimate environment.
Sure Thing and Parameter present Robert Hood at Monarch, 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27. $20; monarchsf.com.
Robert Hood is one of a kind. The legendary producer and DJ — who lives in rural Alabama with his family and is a devout, sober Christian who makes faith a central theme in his work — is one of techno music's crucial innovators and one of the co-founders of Detroit's Underground Resistance crew. Moreover, his relevance has never waned over his 25+ year career; he's more vital now than ever. Arrive early — this will hit capacity.
We Are Monsters presents Xosar and Body Tools at Monarch, 9:30 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday, Feb. 26. $15-$20; monarchsf.com.
Xosar is the alias of former San Franciscan Sheela Rahman, a synthesizer enthusiast (or “freak,” depending on your parlance) who crafts murky, moody, and melodic techno and acid house. Many of her records have been released on Dutch labels (Rush Hour, Creme, Pinkman), which makes sense — her sound explores the spaces between acid techno, Chicago house, and EBM, an intersection of sounds popular in the Netherlands. Body Tools, meanwhile, is a one-off live collaboration between Xosar and Torn Hawk.
Notable Local Records
Kitzflapper by Rubidium; Anode Records
This week's reviews feature three records aimed squarely at DJs, and first up is Oakland-based Rubidium's EP, Kitzflapper. It's anchored by its title track, a fast (133 bpm) acid techno scorcher, composed of a throbbing kick drum buoyed by a recurring, coruscating synth, which holds focus while an undulating acid bassline, filtered and processed, winds its way throughout. Nothing else is added, nothing more is needed — this is pure acid techno, designed to mesmerize dancefloors.
The next tune, “They Are After Us,” is just as fast as “Kitzflapper” and features tightly placed handclaps — but its sound design leaves me wanting. “LLAP” is slower, moodier, and its stepped percussion makes it an excellent companion to the EP's first two cuts. Last up is a remix of “Kitzflapper” from Chainsmoker that goes overboard on percussion, doing away with the original's hypnotic simplicity. It's messy and does nothing for me.
While the record could have benefited from additional engineering (it feels anemic throughout) and the two aforementioned tracks leave me wanting, “Kitzflapper” is brilliantly sequenced, and “LLAP” is a lovely piece that shows range well beyond the dancefloor.
Anaamnesis by Bleie; 3AM Devices.
Here's a short-but-sweet single by East Bay producer Bleie that, in all likelihood, slipped under most people's radars late last year. That's too bad because its eponymous title track is brilliant, a slice of melodic techno that certainly works on the dancefloor, but works just as well at home thanks to its brooding central motif.
That motif is an elegant, sing-song synthesizer lead that will surely worm its way deep into your head. I'm not one for hyperbole, but this central melody reminds me of the golden era of '90s “intelligent techno” from the U.K. (i.e., Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85-92): simple, beautiful, insistent, and mysterious.
Three remixes pad out the release, and while they're fine enough, they don't offer much beyond what you'll find in the title track. Cherushii's remix is the standout, adding a cut-up breakbeat and tweaking the central melody.
Far Away So Close by Cherushii; 100% Silk.
I've long praised Cherushii in this column, and this record perfectly sums up why: four tracks of gorgeous, perfectly engineered house music with unabashed vintage flavor.
The title track opens up the EP, and it's the record's standout. It's built around a saxophone riff (courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Marcia Miget) that's both beautiful and gloriously, unabashedly cheesy — it sounds like something that might be sourced from a weathered LP in your dad's record collection, and that's exactly why it's so lovely. Paired with sun-dappled synths and an acid bassline that shows up in the track's second half, it manages to sound totally retro and totally contemporary at the same time.
The rest of the EP proceeds similarly, mixing warm, soothing synth pads with up-front house music mechanics, resulting in a remarkably idiosyncratic sound. Cherushii's reference points aren't unique, but the way she puts it all together certainly is.