James Blake, Untold, Pariah and more line up with tracks both new and widely heard.
Chris Power 2011
Throughout the 1990s the rearing black stallion of Belgium’s R&S Records graced the centre label of a stream of great techno records, from Golden Girls’ Kinetic and Aphex Twin’s Didgeridoo to Model 500’s classic Deep Space album. At the turn of the millennium, however, releases on the label had slowed to a trickle, and ceased entirely between 2001 and 2006. Since then R&S, now based in London, has been building a new identity, chiefly on the porous borders between dubstep and techno, while attempting to preserve some links to its past, including the continuation of the In Order to Dance compilation series.
CD one features previously released tracks from current and recent members of the roster, while CD two presents 10 exclusive tracks. The two discs comprise an impressive array of production talent and musicianship, with the best-known name here being that of recent Mercury prize nominee James Blake. R&S has been home to the best music of his career so far, 2010’s CMYK and Klavierwerke EPs. His Kelis-sampling CMYK and the lulling I Only Know (What I Know Now) are the most ingeniously arranged things on IOTDXI by some distance. Untold (whose Hemlock label released Blake’s first EP) also impresses with the caustic techno strut of Stereo Freeze and new track U-29. John Updike once wrote about the "gleaming economy and aggressive minimalism" of Ernest Hemingway’s early stories, which will also do nicely for this sparse but intricately layered track. It’s uncanny, clever, and floor-shredding all at once.
Elsewhere there is a lot of proficiency but a lack of innovation. Belfast’s much-praised Space Dimension Controller makes lush, intricate, but ultimately retrograde deep house; Lone’s two contributions feature elements of UK funky and dubstep-indebted sub-bass that are overwhelmed by unreconstructed rave stabs and whistle samples; The Chain’s Suffer for Your Art is pastiche Detroit techno that would have generated serious excitement if it had come out 15 years ago. Quoting from the past is an artistic manoeuvre with a long and justifiable history, but doing it in as wholesale a fashion as this is cultural conservatism.
London’s Pariah sits on both sides of this dichotomy. Safehouses, which opens CD one, is a sweetly executed bit of ambient drift that would (and could) have appeared on R&S’s ambient offshoot Apollo in the 1990s. New track Left Unsaid, on the other hand, sits somewhere between techno, field recording and drone composition. Its freshness is bracing, as is that of former James Blake collaborator Airhead’s Lightmeters, which attains a space far beyond the rigidities of conventional dubstep. At such moments, IOTDXI really does sound like 2011.