The tail end of January saw the release of Jeju 濟州 ,the third compilation release by Seoul-based techno label Oslated. The compilation’s namesake is Jeju island, a subtropical volcanic island off the coast of the Korean peninsula, and South Korea’s southernmost province. The island seems to hold a special place in the Korean psyche; its warm climate, beautiful natural landscape and pristine beaches combine to make it an extremely popular holiday destination (among both Koreans and people from elsewhere in Asia), and the island’s relative isolation from the mainland has meant that the people of Jeju have developed a language, culture and customs quite distinct from those of the mainland. It has always been a land apart; during Korea’s Joseon dynasty period, Jeju was used as a place to send political exiles who had fallen out of favour with the court, and shortly after World War 2 it was the site of a bloody political uprising (one in a long line of such uprisings in the islands history). Jeju is also a place richly steeped in myth and folklore, with stories of gods, goddesses, heroes and spirits abounding around the island. These themes – beauty and isolation, mystery and mysticism – are all foregrounded in this latest Oslated compilation, in which label curator Oslon has sought to pay tribute to the island in the form of a diverse selection of techno and techno-like tracks from a wide variety of producers, from both Korea and elsewhere around the globe.

The compilation starts off slowly, easing the listener into things. Opening track ‘Biyangdo (비양도)’ by Cyme is a study in ambient minimalism, using a combination of modulated found sounds – waves crashing, planes flying overhead, insects chittering – and softly glimmering synth tones to create an evocative but sparse soundscape that brings to mind the colours of sunrise playing over the waves. The track seems designed to evoke the image of its namesake (Biyang-do is a small, mountainous island off the coast of Jeju), a theme which runs throughout several tracks on the compilation. It’s followed by ‘Seolmundae (설문대할망)’, which takes its name from the mythological ‘Grandmother Goddess’ who is said to have created the island. Here the New York based artist Earthen Sea puts forward a tune that feels like a dub techno track whose beat has been slowly siphoned away, like sand spilling from a shattered hourglass. Echoes reverberate beneath the sound of static rain, and it is the interplay of reverberation and echo that drives the track forward.

 

The next track, ‘The Rain and the Storm’ by Asymmetric, is a cinematic, anticipation-building number, stirring tension with its nervy arps, staccato drums and percussive hits wrapped in shrouds of glitched-out reverb. It’s only really in the final two minutes of the track that the kick drum really hits – and hits hard – but rather than being a cathartic release, its introduction only seems to further amplify that feeling of anticipation, acting as an excellent bridge between the compilation’s ambient beginnings and the more frenetic tracks that are soon to follow. However, this then leads into ‘Hy’Naku’, by Dutch producer Alume, a move that feels like a slight misstep. It’s an all right tune for sure; deep, psychedelic-sounding cosmic techno, in which layer after layer of sound, some crisp and velvety, some little more than phantom smears of reverb, are layered over crunchy, textured bass and blunt kicks to hypnotic and head-nodding effect. However, the transition from Asymmetric’s track to Alume’s felt awkward and forced, and this track would probably have worked better had it been slotted in somewhere else.

Track 5, ‘Seongsan (성산일출봉) comes courtesy of French producer Xylème , and to my mind is one of the high points of the entire compilation. Tectonically deep rumbling bass propels the track forward, in concert with an offbeat hi-hat that sounds like a match being struck over and over again on a rain-drenched beach. There’s a great deal of sonic depth in the detailing and intricacies of the other sounds Xylème  has strung together here, and I imagine this tune would be absolutely mind-warping if heard on a big sound system. The next track, ‘Evaporite’ by Bmbmd, didn’t impress me quite as much, but it’s a fun tune nonetheless; its low-slung funky bassline groove and snatches of syncopated rhythm make it feel a bit like a technoid mutation of a deep house track.

 

The seventh track is the work of an old Oslated alumnus, Swedish producer Eyvind Blix, whose album Västberga Allé was released on the label last year. Entitled ‘In A Safe Place’, this is another slow-burning, tension building tune. If you stripped away the bass and drums, it might work as a blissful ambient piece, but the rapid-fire bursts of quasi-tribal percussion and subaquatic squelches and bleeps position the track in a darker dimension. Again, however, the transition between this track and the ones preceding and following it feels somewhat jarring, and this is another tune that might have worked better had it been slipped into a different portion of the compilation.

The following tune, ‘Cheonjiyeon (천지연) by Kannabi, is another one of the compilation’s best moments. Named for a famous waterfall on Jeju, the track is full of chaos and character from beginning to end. A dizzying collection of sounds – rubber band twangs, UFO engine noise, classic acid squelches – babble amongst themselves, their wildness barely contained by the dull sinoid thump of the kick attempting to keep everything from falling apart. It’s heady, trippy stuff – there’s a lot for the listener to lose themselves in here – but it seems to be made with a hint of playfulness as well. The ninth track, by contrast – ‘Underground Sea’ by Stigr – seems far more dour and serious in comparison. French producer Stigr takes his title quite literally, using the sounds of water lapping against the shore and what sounds like the digital squeals of cybernetic dolphins to evoke the ‘underground sea’ in question. It’s a pretty good tune, very atmospheric and psychedelic, but doesn’t really measure up against the rest of the compilation, in my opinion.

 

Track 10, ‘Vagabond’ by ASLLAN, seems to have been made with the 4 am basement dancefloor firmly in mind. A huge, galloping kick rhythm keeps time underneath a surging sea of sound, including a percussive rhythm that sounds stitched together from the sounds of old film projectors and rusty scissors, and a high-pitched synthetic whistle that brings to mind the soundtracks of 1960s Western films. Loose, off-kilter tribal percussion, great little drum fills, and exciting but rapid builds and breakdowns make the entire track feel like a blackened techno take on the tropes and styles of UK funky. Track 11, ‘Soggy Eyes to Winter Light’, is far deeper and more cerebral in comparison. Here Korean producer Hyein, whose background is in film and visual art, presents a tune that is as much a work of sonic art as it is a dancefloor track, a deep-space cosmic transmission that sounds like an encrypted signal being beamed down to an abandoned military base deep in a frozen forest. Hyein’s keen sense for rhythm and groove, however, keeps the piece from feeling too abstract or unapproachable; the beat gives it the feel of cutting-edge 21st century electro, and you can most certainly dance to it.

The eleventh track, ‘Oedolgae (외돌개)’ by Leipzig-based artist Kontinum, pairs a rolling bassline with ethereal cycles of synth and bursts of punctuation – like percussion in a way that makes time feel like it no longer exists. This is a very subtle track, the kind of tune that you might need to listen to a few times before it ‘clicks’. Track 13 – ‘Magma’ by Massa – also makes use of a rolling kick-bass rhythm, as well as chasms of dub techno reverb through which squelches of synth appear like veins in the skin of something floating in a vat. Psychedelic scraps of sound begin to crawl and slither out of the murk, appearing and disintegrating faster than a heartbeat.

 

Its at this point that Oslated begins to really bring out the big guns. Track 14 comes courtesy of Volnost boss and longtime Korean techno scene veteran Comarobot. The track’s title – ‘Baengnokdam (백록담)’ – is taken from the name of a massive crater lake situated at the top of Jeju’s Mount Halla, and there is something strangely romantic about it (an odd term to apply to a techno banger, I know). The gusts of synthetic reverb bring to mind windswept mountaintops, while something that is more than just a rhythm, but less than a melody, drives the tune forward, together with the rich, mournful tones of what sounds to me like an electric organ. The drop, when it happens, is definitely the most dramatic moment on the compilation. Comarobot displays a more “classical” approach to techno than any of the other artists on Jeju, but his music is definitely not any weaker for it. The next track, ‘Geomoreum (금오름)’ comes from another Seoul techno stalwart, SCOPÁVIK mastermind Scøpe. Here synthesizer growls and groans almost drown each other out over the stumbling, shuffling rumble of the kick drums, while the rest of the percussion sounds as if it is being twisted and deformed into razor-sharp ribbons of sculpted static. Each time the track seems to settle into the groove, it breaks apart again in a brief but violent moment of cacophony, constantly surprising the listener. This is another tune that I really want to hear on a bigger sound system – I feel like in a club or rave setting it would be absolutely massive.

The final two tracks are less frenetic and intense, slowly winding down from the fever pitch of the compilation’s second half. ‘Sarang (사랑)’ by Swedish artist Skóll  is named after the Korean word for ‘love’, and the rolling bassline, deep, hypnotic pads and liquid sound effects all combine to create a trancey, tranquil atmosphere. The compilation closer comes courtesy of collaboration between Swiss artists Ben Kaczor and Morphing Territories. It’s called ‘Halla (할라)’, after Halla Mountain, the active volcano that is the highest mountain in Korean territory, and that historically has a great deal of spiritual significance in Korean mythology, seen as the home of the gods and spirits in a way somewhat analogous to the role played by Mount Olympus in Greek mythology. The track starts out as a piece of shadowy bleep techno in the vein of Sleeparchive, but the initial sense of menace or darkness begins to gradually crumble with the introduction of deep, digital whalesong chords and jaunty syncopated techno rhythms that sound as if they’re being played on an ancient typewriter. It’s a good end to a good compilation, finishing the intense marathon of techno that went before it on a more calm and meditative note.

Jeju 濟州 is an excellent addition to Oslated’s catalogue, working both as a wide-ranging collection of various talented artists and on another level as a “concept album” representing the mystery and grandeur of Jeju album itself. Several of the tracks on offer here – most notably ‘Soggy Eyes to Winter Light’ and ‘Geumoreum (금오름)’, are arguably some of the high points not only of the compilation album, but of Oslated in general, standing out as some of the strongest individual pieces of music the label has yet to release. It’s not perfect, however. The sequencing of tracks is sometimes unintuitive or jarring, breaking the flow of the compilation. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be too concerned by this, as generally speaking compilations are not necessarily intended to be listened to the way that albums are, and the flow and sequencing of tracks is of lesser importance, but in the case of Jeju 濟州 I think such criticisms are warranted, as as I’ve mentioned above it seems to be intended to work as both a compilation and a concept album of sorts. Another issue I have with it is that it’s a bit too long, clocking in at 17 tracks. Certain tracks, while not bad by any means, are definitely noticeably weaker than the rest, and the compilation would have been stronger had Oslon been a bit more judicious with his editing and left them on the cutting room floor. Still, these are fairly minor quibbles, and at the end of the day I can still see myself giving Jeju 濟州 a lot of love in the months to come.

Jeju 濟州  is available for purchase over on Oslated’s Bandcamp

2018 has been a fruitful year for Oslated. The fledgling label has already released two stellar albums this year – Eyvind Blix’s Västberga Allé and Saphileaum’s Uninhibited Kingdom – and now, as the memory of summer fades and the trees have begun to turn the crimsons and golds of autumn, they’ve put out their most challenging and experimental release yet: General Noise, by Spanish-born, Vietnam based producer Javier Marimon.

On General Noise Marimon, who contributed a remix of Saphileaum’s ‘No Clue of Life’ for Uninhibited Noise earlier this year, offers up six cuts of moody, atmospheric ambient techno, which are presented alongside four remixes by various Oslated affiliates. The album’s intro consists of reverb-drenched found sound – something like ping pong balls falling to a wooden floor, or marbles being rolled across a stage – that bubble and echo against a backdrop of ominous buzzes and drones that grow steadily richer and more textured as the track progresses, while a halting, uncertain kick rhythm lies almost buried in the mix. After the intro fades away, the album kicks off with the first ‘proper’ track, ‘General Noise I’ – though “kicks off” is really the wrong turn of phrase to use for such a muted, understated piece of music. A pad so deep it frequently finds itself merging with the bass rumbles and creaks alongside the thump of a chaotic kick pattern while more reverb-laden samples, similar to those in the intro piece, provide a counterpoint to the other elements of the track. It’s a bare-bones, hyperminimalist work, but at the same time it has a certain warmth to it, a flicker of emotion that belies the sparseness of the overall arrangement. No such sense of warmth is present in the following tune, ‘General Noise II’, a far more eerie and ominous affair. A soft rain of static leaves streaks of sound against a crystalline lead rhythm (I say “rhythm” because it would be an extreme stretch of the term to describe it as a “melody”), while over time something vaguely resembling a traditional techno track structure – 4/4 bass thud, whispers of percussion – is worn away by gusts of metallic wind. Later in the track things grow slightly more intense with the arrival of distorted, twisted clap-like sounds, battering the bulk of the track in a faltering, unpredictable frenzy, but they’re still mixed low enough that they only add to the murk of the piece, rather than making it any clearer.

 

 

General Noise III’, the fourth track, is probably the closest Marimon gets here to ‘straight’ dancefloor material, but even here he’s undeniably charting a stranger territory than paint-by-numbers peak-time techno ever dares to. A blunt-edged sub-bass and dry grid of kick drums form the basis of the track as bursts of shaped static sound off like faraway gunfire and synth sweeps and spirals through the air like UFOs searching for their next victim. It’s danceable, sure, but only in the darkest of basements in the blackest of hours, which I feel like is exactly what Marimon was aiming for. It’s followed by the last of the ‘General Noise’ tunes, ‘General Noise IV’. The low-end of the track tunnels its way through a fog of engine noise before being joined by the microscopic click and hiss of percussion and a swell of bright synth that would almost sound like vaporwave if heard in a different context.

After the last notes of ‘General Noise IV’ have faded away, it’s time for the remixes to start. First up is a remix of ‘General Noise I’ by Korea’s dark prince of the 5 a.m dancefloor, Xanexx. Here, Xanexx hollows out the dense soundscape of Marimon’s original and cloaks it in a shroud of his own ghostly electronics, producing an ambient work somehow even more somber and despondent than the original, making the listener feel as if they’re gazing out over the frozen surface of a desolate moon. The next rework comes from one of the most renowned names to have worked with Oslated to date, Silent Season luminary Winter in June. On his rework of ‘General Noise II’, the Sardinian producer cranks up the originals ominous atmosphere to 11, creating a tense, paranoid slice of dark ambient reminiscent of the early work of Ben Frost; it’s the kind of track that wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack of a horror film. For the third remix, Georgian producer Saphileaum delivers what may be the album’s most floor-friendly moment with his ‘3rd Sky’ remix of ‘General Noise III’. A syncopated stepper kick rhythm gives the track a bit of groove and sexiness, but Saphileaum keeps things on the weird and experimental side by layering on a cacophony of disintegrating waveforms that flow and evaporate over the track’s dark void of bass. Saphileaum’s dub techno influences are prominently on display here, and his tune is probably the most original of the four remixes on the album, the one that deviates the furthest from its source material. The final remix comes courtesy of the mysterious Mojave, whose re-imagining of ‘General Noise IV’ features serene, glowing pads whose gentle hum forms a counterpoint to the repetitive buzz and click of something that was once, maybe, percussion, but that Mojave has bent and deformed until it’s closer to simple raw sound. Actual percussion emerges from the depths of the track a little later, in the form of sixteenth note hi-hat ticks and a tightly wound snare sound, but these details are soon eclipsed by a sudden unfurling of shimmering, warped noise that transforms the track into a stunning tapestry of sonic detail. The album closes off with Marimon’s ‘Outro’, a simple reprisal of the ‘Intro’ tracks that takes the intro’s pared-down minimalism and engulfs it in a gale of digital wind.

 

 

As an album, ‘General Noise’ is a triumph, both for Marimon as a producer and for Oslated as a label; it’s introspective, experimental nature represents a willingness to take risks and explore a deeper realm of sound, demonstrating the capacity of techno music to extend beyond its functional dimension as party music and instead illuminate something richer and more mysterious about the human condition. Furthermore, both Marimon and his remixers appear to be operating on the same wavelength, sharing a singular vision and understanding of techno that allows both Marimon’s original tracks and the four remixed tunes to operate as one continuous musical experience. All of the artists involved should be congratulated for putting forth such a fearless transgression of musical boundaries.

General Noise is available for purchase at Oslated’s Bandcamp

Over the last few years the Georgian capital of Tbilisi has garnered a reputation for having one of the best techno scenes in the world – a surprising turn of events, perhaps, given the former Soviet republic’s tumultuous past and difficult present. The strength of the Georgian scene – and it’s particular political dimensions – was further demonstrated earlier this year, when police raids on the legendary club Bassiani sparked off a gigantic ‘protest rave’ outside of the Georgian parliament buildings which, in all honesty, looks like it may well have been the best party of 2018. It seems that if you’re into techno, Georgia is a good place to be, whether you’re a producer, a DJ or just a fan.

One of the many talented producers to have come out of this scene is Saphileaum, aka Andro Gogibedashvili. He’s released on Oslated before, having contributed a sultry ambient techno remix of ‘Karusellplan’ for Eyvind Blix’s album Västberga Allé. Now he’s back with his first album for Oslated, Uninhibited Kingdom, a painstakingly assembled collection of mind-bending dub techno cuts.

Album opener ‘No Clue of Life’ is a brooding, slow-burning piece of quasi-ambient techno, combining insectile noises, psychedelic sounds and sanded-down synth stabs with a hollowed-out kick rhythm that seems to be there more to mark time than to inspire movement. The sound design is impressive, but overall something about the track is a little lacking to my ears – it’s probably my least favourite tune on the album, and the one I found myself skipping most often on re-listens. Fortunately, however, it’s followed up by ‘Lost in the Forest’, which is easily one of the strongest tracks Saphileaum has on offer here. The soundscape reminded me a little of the kinds of noises found in some of the darker varieties of psytrance: alien-sounding bubbling and bleeping, ethnic hand-drum percussion samples, but the reverb-heavy loping kick pattern they were bolted on top of made it very clear that we were very much deep in dub-techno territory. Around midway through the appearance a series of piercing minor-key synth chords really kicks the track into a higher gear; it becomes completely hypnotic and bewitching, and I can easily imagine it absolutely devastating certain kinds of dancefloors in the hands of the right DJ.

Lost in the Forest is a strong contender for the title of ‘best track’ on the album. 

The next track, ‘Abandoned Fortress’, is by contrast much warmer and gentler. Featuring another shuffled beat, the track uses soft, sometimes euphoric evolving pads, a perky offbeat melody and some more interesting tribal percussion loops and rhythms to create a soothing sense of calm and tranquility; it evokes the abandoned fortress of the title, sure, but rather than being a grim and desolate place, this abandoned fortress is lush with tropical plants and crowded with wild animals, teeming with life, like Chernobyl in the years after it was abandoned by humanity.

The happy, upbeat tone of ‘Abandoned Fortress’ doesn’t linger for long, however. ‘Treated by Herbs and Fire’ is a serious and dramatic piece, once again featuring the now-familiar staggered kick rhythm and pairing it with resonant metal-on-metal percussion. A cosmic abyss of bass undulates throughout the track, accompanied by the sounds of chanting voices that rise and fall like a strip of ribbon twisting through the air. Snatches of digital birdsong and stark bursts of saw-wave complete the piece, and when taken together the whole thing feels as if it would work well as the soundtrack to something or other, though I’m not sure exactly what. The final original track on the album, ‘Dual Expression’, maintains a similar sort of tone and atmosphere: vintage-sounding synth tones echo beneath a high-pitched ringing sound, like the sound of noise being coaxed from the rim of a wine glass, highlighted by more drum-circle polyrhythms, all firmly anchored by a classic dub beat. The strong sound design on display here merits special mention once again; the subtly phased and layered snare drum, the rise and fall of pads evoking the sound of whalesong, the way that all of the intricate percussive elements sweep and glide around one another.

The next four tracks on the album are all remixes by various Oslated affiliates. The first is a remix of the album opener, “No Clue of Life”, by Spanish-born, Vietnam based producer Javier Marimon. Marimon’s remix takes things a little deeper, by and large preserving the labyrinthine sonic details and effects of the original, but layering them over a sinuous Northern Electronics-style wave of sub-bass. There’s no real sense of progress here; sounds simply play off of themselves, repeat and refract into infinity, creating a sense of darkened ambience, like shadows dancing around the edge of a mirror. Marimon’s remix is followed by a remix of ‘Lost in the Forest’ by Romi. In this mix Romi, currently based in Hong Kong, serves up a claustrophobic, paranoid take on Saphileaum’s dubby roller; noxious pads descend over the track’s distant sub-bass rumble like chem-trails spewing out from a squadron unmarked jet-black fighter planes, while halfway through an urgent shaker rhythm and acid-like bass and synth squelches lend the tune a feeling of groove and movement.

Vice City’s remix of Treated by Herbs and Fire is a personal favourite of mine.

The next remix, a version of ‘Treated by Herbs and Fire’ by Vice City, is far and away my favourite track on the entire album. Vice City, who hails from Taiwan, reportedly draws her inspiration from nature, science, philosophy and mythology, and I felt like I could catch a glimpse of some of these inspirations while listening to this remix. Her command of sound design and construction is, in a word, exquisite; within the first 20 seconds of the mix I had already become thoroughly lost within all of the dizzying richness and texture of the track. It’s as if she had carefully dissected Saphileaum’s original track one precise incision at a time, eventually pulling it wide open to reveal entire unexpected universes within. She preserves a lot of the original chords and patterns of the original, but presents them to the listener in stunningly imaginative and unexpected ways. It’s a largely ambient piece, but a beat does slowly emerge over the course of the track – slowly and haltingly, shuddering every step of the way and threatening to collapse in on itself at any moment, until all of a sudden it comes into focus fully formed and ready to kill. This is another track that I can imagine being incredibly effective if mixed into the right set, though it would take a lot of skill on the part of the DJ in order to pull it off correctly.

The final tune on the album, a remix of “Dual Expression” by Sanjib, places the emphasis firmly on the production. Sanjib is a side-project of techno producer Jibis, who operates out of Lyon, France; Sanjib is apparently the moniker he uses for more “emotional” or personal projects. For this remix, he takes the hints of tribal techno scattered throughout Saphileaum’s debut and brings them to the fore, creating one of the most directly dancefloor-oriented cuts on album as a result; I can easily imagine that I’ll be hearing this particular track on the floor of vurt. or Volnost over the next few months. Of particular delight is the crushing bassweight of the piece – the sub really sinks into your bones – and the rattling, clanking percussion fills, like the sound of a box of pots and pans falling down a spiral steel staircase, but in reverse. It’s a good tune, for sure, but sadly I think it’s a bit overshadowed by the excellence of the Vice City remix that came before – personally, I would have rather the album ended with that.

Uninhibited Kingdom is an impressive album. Saphileaum has a fantastic ear for soundcraft, and his original tracks successfully invoke a wide variety of feelings and emotions in the listener. If I have a small complaint, it’s that his sound pallette felt a little limited at times; I heard variations of the same set of sounds being used in just about every track. Then again, this may have been a deliberate decision on his part – it has the effect of creating a sense of continuity and coherency throughout the album. I would have still preferred it if he’d stretched himself a little more, though, but that’s just my opinion. And thankfully, the four remixers do a great job of adding in some new elements and changing up the pace and atmosphere of the album, so overall the whole thing still works very well as a continuous listen. If, like me, you have a soft spot for dub techno, I can definitely recommend giving Uninhibited Kingdom a spin.

Uninhibited Kingdom is available for purchase over at Oslated’s Bandcamp

DATE: 05/05/2018
VENUE: vurt.
ENTRANCE FEE: ₩20 000

Anyone more than casually interested in the state of techno in South Korea is familiar with Oslated. Originally just a podcast, now a record label home to some of the most interesting and forward-thinking techno produced on the Korean peninsula and beyond, Oslated has become synonymous with deep, dark, intense techno in Seoul. As such, the Oslated nights that they organize – hosted usually either at vurt. or at Volnostare invariably high-quality affairs, showcasing some of the best talent the label has to offer alongside international guests drawn from shadowy corners of the techno scene all over the world. This past weekend was a very busy one for Oslated; Friday night saw them throw a party with Hong Kong based producer Romi at Volnost, while on Saturday night Oslated took over vurt. for an evening of brooding, psychedelic techno featuring Swiss producer/DJ duo Agonis and Garçon, co-founders of boutique techno label Amenthia Recordings.

Based in Basel – a beautiful city nestled in a corner of the Swiss border where the edges of Switzerland, France and Germany meet – Amenthia Recordings, like Oslated, operates in a more peripheral zone of the global techno scene. While Basel is obviously not as far removed from the Germanic epicentre of the world of techno as Seoul is, it’s still far removed enough that the city’s techno pioneers have seemingly been able to forge their own distinct scene relatively untouched by the tropes and trends that at times appear to constrain the development of the techno sound in bigger, more “hyped” cities. As a result, the releases on Amenthia Recording’s catalogue (the overwhelming majority of which are by label founder Agonis) display the kind of creativity and originality that is sadly becoming a rarer and rarer commodity in the techno industry. I’d be lying if I said that either Agonis or Amenthia co-founder Garçon had ever crossed my radar before last week, but after sitting down and listening through some of the Agonis tracks and Garçon DJ sets available online I was very keen to head down to vurt. and give them a listen, especially given the fact that Agonis would be playing live as opposed to DJing; live techno sets always pique my interest.

An example of what an Agonis set sounds like, courtesy of Taipei techno podcast Smoke Machine

One thing that sets vurt. apart from other clubs in Seoul, in my opinion, is the consistent quality of the club’s opening and closing acts. Given that the venue hosts so many world-class acts on a regular basis, it would be easy for its resident DJs to pale a little in comparison, which, to be frank, has been my experience at a few of the other clubs in the Korean capital. At vurt., however, I find that each opening and closing DJ is memorable in their own right, which is no mean feat for artists sharing a bill with such big names. Busan transplant Lavera’s opening set on Saturday night was no exception. When I arrived, she was playing a sultry, spacy selection of slow techno to the small but already palpably excited crowd gathered on the dark dancefloor. Bathed in the darkroom-red glow of the vurt. DJ booth, she began to gradually pick up the pace, steadily mixing in heavier and funkier tracks until eventually the audience was catapulted into full-on groove mode. For an opening set it was pretty energetic, but the crowd responded well and it set the bar nice and high for the following acts.

Once Lavera had played her final tune – a psychedelic voodoo-techno roller that sounded like an Aphex Twin track on bath salts – it was Agonis’ turn to step up to the booth. In my experience, DJs tend to take one of two approaches to following on from another set: either they try and maintain the energy level and tempo set by the previous DJ, attempting to create a seamless transition between the two sets, or they “reset” and start building a set from scratch again, starting slow and slowly picking up the pace again. For his live set, Agonis chose the latter approach; he began by piecing together a murky rhythmic soundscape of scrapes, clanks, shrieks and bleeps, still highly danceable but definitely several degrees more abstract than the relatively straightforward techno that had made up the bulk of Lavera’s set. I was struck by the immaculate quality of his sound design; every noise and detail seemed intricately crafted and originally, a showcase of just how much room for creativity there is to be found within the apparently strict boundaries of this kind of music. As the set drew on his sound began to evolve into something more beat-driven, but it was still heady, trippy stuff, a kind of industrial trance sound that mesmerized as much as it moved.

All of this makes Agonis’ set sound kind of dry or academic, music for thinking about rather than dancing to, but in fact nothing could be further from the truth. For all of the downcast mood and cerebral nature of his music, the man definitely still knows how to get a dancefloor moving. He demonstrated a keen command of rhythm throughout his set, and his carefully calculated minimalist percussion work – the gut-punch of kick here, the switchblade flicker of a hi-hat there – inspired some truly impressive dance moves from the people around me on the floor; I witnessed some dancers losing themselves in the music in a way that I hadn’t seen for a long time.

Garçon’s entry in the Oslated podcast series. 

Agonis’ thought-provoking and bone-shaking live set was followed by a DJ set from his Amenthia Recordings colleague, Garçon. Clad in a brightly coloured tie-dye shirt, Garçon immediately set about lightening the mood a little, laying down slightly more melodic, looser tracks that acted as the perfect antidote to the storm of ragged-edge synths and remorseless bass that had come before. His tunes, while they still banged hard and fell firmly within deep techno territory, had a kind of warmth to them – something about the character of the bass, maybe, or the occasional jazzy percussion lick – that belied their sparse and brittle structure, as if I was listening to the bones of a deep house set that had been picked clean by a flock of vultures. Something else that really interested me about Garçon’s mixing was the unexpected musicality of it – I was floored by his clever use of key changes and chord progression, to the point where I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that he’s had some classical music training. That kind of harmonic mixing, while not exactly unheard of in the world of techno, certainly doesn’t seem to be as common as it does in some other forms of dance music, and it really helped his set stand out in my memory.

Taken individually, Agonis and Garçon both played stellar sets, but as a back to back duo they really brought out the best in each other. The two sets had a kind of ying-yang quality to them, with Garçon’s playful yet still hard-edged beats providing an excellent counterpoint to the somber tech-trance of Agonis, bringing a much needed sense of levity to an evening of music that, while excellent, had begun to feel like it was taking itself a little too seriously.

By the time it was closing DJ and Oslated label head Oslon’s turn to take over, the crowd had thinned out a little, but there were definitely still enough people dancing that the floor didn’t feel overly empty. Those that left early definitely missed out; Oslon pulled out all the stops, pummeling the audience with a demented array of scorched acid synths, hammer-and-anvil kick-bass combos, squalls of shaped noise and relentless, jittery percussion. It was heavy music, cold and alien and with little in the way of recognizable melody or harmony; but that didn’t stop it from being utterly exhilarating, and the crowd around me was going wild, whooping and cheering with every rapid-fire, effortless track transition. In short, it was a “total stomp, bru”, as ravers back home might say.

Looking back on my overall impression of the night, I’d say that if I had to pinpoint one aspect of the party that really impressed me it would be the variety of it all. Each DJ, while staying firmly within the bounds of techno, had very different interpretations of what “techno” means, and the end result was a constant sense of exploration and adventure that deftly avoided the rut that too many techno nights fall into – stale, monotonous, repetitive sets with little in the way of uniqueness or originality. Instead, each DJ offered the crowd an idiosyncratic musical experience, and the four sets, alongside help from a fantastic crowd, combined to produce and immensely fun and memorable evening. I can’t say I’m surprised – as I’ve mentioned before, I seldom don’t have a good time at vurt., and I have only respect and admiration for the gifted and hardworking Oslated crew – but I certainly am pleased.

 

Techno is a global phenomenon. It may be more firmly rooted in some places – Berlin, Detroit – than in others, but one of the joys of techno as a form of music and as a movement is the way in which techno clubs and labels can be found in almost every major city in the developed world (and elsewhere), and the kind of connections that spring up between producers and labels, DJs and clubs separated geographically, but united in a common passion for the music and by the work of technological wizardry that is the internet. This album, Västberga Allé by Eyvind Blix, exemplifies this interconnected aspect of the techno world. Eyvind Blix hails from Sweden, with the title Västberga Allé having been taken from the name of a street in Västberga, an industrial area in Stockholm notorious for being the site of illegal raves in the city. The label it’s been released on, however, is based in Seoul; Oslated, run by Jong-min Lee (aka Oslon) emerged out of the Oslated podcast series and is closely associated with the Constant Value warehouse parties and with the city’s premiere venue for techno of a dark and insular variety, vurt. It’s an interesting example of the international character of this kind of music, emblematic, to me at least, of techno’s ability to transcend boundaries.

The first track, ‘Elektra’, features a murky bass-kick combo submerged deep in the mix under a swell of constantly-evolving abrasive pads and insectile percussion. It’s a meditative, hypnotic piece, setting the tone for the album to come. It’s followed by “Maskinrum”, a more insistent number consisting of a jackhammer beat, subliminal synthesizer wails and hyper-repetitive looping percussion, coming across like a field recording from a Soviet uranium mine. The third track, “Introvert”, follows a similar kind of formula, presenting listeners with a barrage of rapid but muffled bass kicks, tribal plastic-bottle percussion, chattering robotic voices and two noisy crescendos of machine noise in place of traditional breakdowns which taken together form one of the high points of the entire album for me. By fourth track, “Karusellplan”, the album starts setting its eyes more firmly on the dancefloor; staggered, slightly off-kilter beats, intricate bursts of sonic detail and a muscular, droning lead that dominates the track’s latter half gives “Karusellplan” a groovy kind of feel that definitely got my head nodding. The fifth track, “Hemlängtan”, is an interesting example of how good techno music can be at displaying contrast; the kick and rumbling bass are crushingly heavy, but the sounds swirling around them – dub-like reverberation and a high-pitched, resonant three-note pattern that shines out of the darkness every so often like the beams of a lighthouse sweeping across a dark ocean – felt light and almost wistful, inducing in me a great sense of tranquility. This moment of respite is followed by the album’s biggest banger, “Drivhjulsvägen” (try saying that five times fast), a driving dancefloor bomb that derives a lot of mileage from a repetitive distorted synth pattern and a bone-shattering kick drum.

The album is rounded out by four stellar remixes from other Oslated associates. Vâyu’s remix of “Karusellplan” transforms the track into a rich ambient techno soundscape; while it maintains a sense of forward motion through the ebbs and flows of the bassline it feels very much more tailored for home listening (or opening/closing sets, perhaps) than for dark basements at 4 a.m. Saphileaum’s “1st Sky” mix of the same track takes a similar kind of approach. It’s slightly more beat-focused, but maintains a similar sort of spacey, floaty atmosphere, livening things up with an epic trance-like breakdown and synth chords towards the end. The remix of “Hemlängtan” by stalwart vurt resident Unjin, on the other hand, combines a rigid kickdrum groove with glowing pads, woodblock percussion and starship-engine-room ambient noise to create a track at once both cerebral and intensely physical, the kind of beat I’d be equally happy to dance my feet off in the club to as to listen to on the subway home. The closing track, a remix of “Drivhjulsvägen” by another vurt resident, Djilogue, is one of the most interesting tracks on the album, taking Eyvind Blix’s banger apart and reassembling it as a slinky, sleazy slice of brothel techno, bringing to mind the image of cyborg assassins stalking the streets of some far-future cyberpunk vice district.

All told, Vastbergä Allé is a worthy addition to the Oslated catalogue. It’s a well-crafted collection of deep, mesmerising techno that has something to offer both for DJs looking for material for their sets and for home listeners looking to space out with their headphones on. It’s not especially original or boundary-defying as an album, but not all music has to be innovative to be good; Eyvind Blix doesn’t do anything particularly new here, but he does display a refined understanding of and mastery over all of the tropes and tricks of techno, and utilizes them to extremely good effect.

Vastbergä Allé is available for purchase as a digital album over at Oslated’s Bandcamp