My first encounter with Sanjib’s music came last year, when I was listening to Saphileaum’s fantastic album Uninhibited Kingdom. The French producer had provided the closing track on that album, a remix of Saphileaum’s ‘Dual Expression’ (which was, incidentally, used last year by London bass wizard Forest Drive West in his XLR8R podcast). It’s a good  tune, a bass-heavy dub/tribal techno hybrid, but as I noted in my review of the album it was unfortunately a bit overshadowed by some of the other stellar remixes that accompanied it. Sadly for Sanjib, the same problem appears to be dogging him on his own Oslated release, Distant Communion. Though it’s billed as an album, and is album-length, in practice it’s more a kind of extended EP, featuring three original tracks by Sanjib and six remixes of those tracks by other producers. Sanjib’s three originals certainly aren’t bad by any definition of the word, but they do languish a bit in the shadow of the remixes, all of which piqued my interest far more than their source material did.

Title track ‘Distant Communion’, the first of Sanib’s three originals presented here, is probably one of the happiest-sounding tunes that Oslated has ever released, featuring a bright percussive lead, a warm, deep kick drum, sweeping pads and tropical-sounding percussion lines. Though Sanjib’s sound design is on point, the track as a whole doesn’t really hold together that well; each (well-crafted) sonic component feels like it is fighting the others for the listener’s attention. The second track, ‘Without Words’, fares much better. Here Sanjib’s music takes a darker, dubbier direction. Cosmic rays of sound fire out and then fade away, leaving echoes to ripple away across the darkness of the bass, like afterimages of the sun burned into retinas. Later, they’re joined by streams of bleeps and blips that could just as easily be sampled and distorted birdsong as they could digital artefacts. It’s an unpredictable tune, with each bar feeling different to the one that came before it – no mindless loop techno here. Around midway through, Sanjib threatens to overwhelm the track with a cacophony of hollow voices, but when the babble abruptly ceases and the drop hits it’s one of the album’s finest moments; the beat turns irresistibly groovy thanks to a clever little rolling percussion trick, and the disparate scraps of sound and texture that Sanjib has slowly introduced over the course of the track gel together to form a seamless rhythmic atmosphere.

 

The final Sanjib original track, ‘Sincerity Channel’, doesn’t work quite as well. Once again, the sound design is immaculate; Sanjib conjures up a series of chittering, organic noises, like swarms of alien insects flying in rigid formation, and offsets them with resonating sonar beeps and corroded claps that entwine themselves like vines around the deep boom of the bassline. However, once again I couldn’t shake the feeling that, as with ‘Distant Communion’, the whole was a little less than the sum of its immaculately-produced parts; the low end on ‘Sincerity Channel’ didn’t seem to work especially well with everything going on in the high frequencies, and a couple minutes into the track I found myself wishing it would hurry up and end; not a good sign. Of the three Sanjib originals on the album, two of them I didn’t really take to and can’t see myself listening to again much in future.

The crew of remixers brought on board for the album fared significantly better. The first, a remix of ‘Distant Communion’ by Italian producer Shaded Explorer, takes Sanjib’s bright, hopeful percussive lead, chops it up, pitches it down, and smears it in a generous coating of delay and reverb, with the end result sounding far tougher and more sinister. The progression in the track comes primarily from the way Shaded Explorer gradually layers new elements – gritty swells of bass, synths that sound like icy winds echoing through concrete tunnels – atop one another, until the track reaches its shuddering, shimmering climax. The next ‘Distant Communion’ remix, by the mysterious French artist Abismal, is even better, ratcheting up the tempo and propelling the track forward with a funky syncopated kick drum groove, dub techno chord-pulses, and synth pads that glow like bioluminescent mushrooms in an underwater cave. Rigid, mechanical claps and hats provide a pleasing contrast to the sinuous, organic atmosphere of the track.

 

The dub techno feel of the album is made even more explicit in Romi’s remix of ‘Without Words’. The longtime Oslated affiliate offers up the kind of tune that Rod Modell would feel proud to have produced, pairing soul-shakingly deep bass with hazy dub chords and intricate, microscopically detailed percussion that leaves no sliver of the frequency spectrum unused. The way in which the track gradually builds and releases tension, with each new sound introduced feeling both unexpected and at the same time entirely natural, is testament to how refined a sense Romi has of the deep structure of techno music. Next up is Saphileaum, who returns the favor by contributing a second remix of ‘Without Words’ (called, in classic Saphileaum style, ‘Saphileaum’s 4th Sky’). The Georgian artist’s take on the tune is characteristically cinematic and serene, warm and watery ambient techno that sounds like the feeling you get watching rays of sunshine break through a haze of smoke at an afterparty in a stranger’s house at ten AM on Sunday morning.

Saphileaum’s blissful cut is followed by the only real “banger” on the album, Nigm’s remix of ‘Sincerity Channel’. It’s one of Distant Communion’s best moments, an eyes-closed headfuck of a tune. The kick and bass hit hard, galloping forward beneath organic rustling and chittering (with Nigm having carefully preserved some of the insectile nature of Sanjib’s original) and lithe, undulating synthesizer growls that are bound to send shivers down every spine on the dancefloor. It’s also very cleanly produced, with each sonic element sounding punishingly clear, an advantage it has over Sanjib’s original which sounds unfortunately muddy in comparison.

It falls to Javier Marimon (who released a truly sublime album, General Noise, on Oslated last year) to finish off Distant Communion. Marimon’s ‘Salve Dub’ of ‘Sincerity Channel’ is a tour de force of dubby psychedelia. It’s a witchy, haunting tune, full of occult overtones: think “Demdike Stare covers Basic Channel”. There’s a lot to love about this track – the halting, shuddering percussion, the faint shrieks of circuitry warped into unnatural forms –but my personal favourite aspect is the dusty, muffled melody, the one that sounds like it’s coming from deep within the listener’s own skull. All of the remixes on here are incredibly strong in their own way, but Marimon’s feels the most distinct; as if he has taken Sanjib’s track and truly made it his own.

The presence of so many excellent remixes on this release is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Nigm, Romi, Marimon, and others have all seriously stepped up to the plate, and this release is worth copping for their efforts alone. But on the other hand, this has the unintended effect of making Sanjib seem a bit outclassed on his own release. Perhaps, given a different format – a more traditional album, for instance – Sanjib may be able to spread his wings a bit more and better demonstrate the musical artistry he is surely capable of. On Distant Communion, however, it feels like he was never really given the chance to shine.

Distant Communion is available for purchase over on Oslated’s Bandcamp

Ten years is a long time in the world of electronic music. Scenes and trends change at an incredible pace, and that change is even further accelerated by the hyper-activity and shortened attention spans of the internet age. Over the last decade hundreds, if not thousands, of artists and labels have emerged, seen their stars rise in popularity and prestige, and then faded into obscurity again; victims of an often ruthless music culture where audiences are constantly on the search for something new. The fact that ECI Korea has been around since 2008, then, is a pretty impressive achievement, and speaks to the hard work, dedication and, of course, talent of all the people involved – in particular label founder Unjin, a true stalwart of the Korean techno scene. Unjin has been one of the most instrumental figures in the growth and development of techno music on the Korean peninsula, both as a DJ/producer and as a label manager and party organiser; it’s not an over-exaggeration to say that without Unjin, the Korean techno scene would probably be nowhere near as healthy as it is today. Nor is his influence, and the influence of ECI Korea, limited only to Korea – the label has become a platform for artists from all over Asia, allowing them global reach and facilitating connections and collaborations both within the broader Asian techno scene and between techno scenes in Asia and Europe. It’s fitting, then, that the 10 Years of ECI Korea compilation released to celebrate this milestone in the label’s history features a broad range of artists – from Korea, from elsewhere in Asia, and from other countries around the world. The variety of producers featured on the album serves as a representation of the wide variety of artists who have worked with ECI Korea over the past decade.

 

 

 

The compilation opens with ‘Fascination X’ by Mojave, a swirling, epic ambient track whose crystalline synth-work is reminiscent of Vangelis. It has a sense of cosmic depth to it, but deep within the track’s nebulous clouds of sound there is a feeling of unease, a sense of distant menace that hints at the darkness to come. The next track, “Falling Out” by Shanghai-based artist MIIIA, begins with a haltering, staggering beat and deep, sonar-like bleeps that gradually resolve themselves into a ritualistic rhythm while hisses of static and bursts of noise lend the track an air of controlled chaos. Around the halfway mark the introduction of some shakers transforms the track into something a little vibier, but it never loses its downcast, eyes-down atmosphere. The third tune on the compilation, ‘Space Explorer’ by Italian producer Gennaro Mastrantonio, puts me in mind of the cosmic techno of Samuli Kemppi. It’s a meditative piece of loop-based techno that showcases Mastrantonio’s keen understanding of progression in dance music. Deep and mesmerising though it may be, the thick grittiness of the track’s bassline keeps ‘Space Explorer’ firmly anchored to the dancefloor.

 

The next track, ‘an-i-o-bi-o-ics’ by Taiwanese producer Jing, is notably darker and more aggressive than the three tracks preceding it. Thunderous percussion, cyberpunk-sounding pads and staccato synth riffs give off a kind of “future industrial” sort of feel. It’s a brief track, clocking in at just four minutes and twenty-one seconds. The following tune, ‘Weinfelden’ by Romi, proceeds to take things in a spacier, more introspective direction again. Romi, a Hong Kong based producer and frequent collaborator with Oslated, contributes what is easily one of the best tracks on the entire compilation here. Although each sound he puts to use here is distinctly artificial and machine-like, the overall impression given by the track reminded me of birdsong, or the hushed noise of a dark forest at midnight, warm and organic. He piles on a dizzying array of elements in the track, and yet it never feels overly busy or cluttered – each individual sonic element has its own carefully carved-out space in the mix.

 

 

 

 

Track six, ‘Cogito’ by HWA (aka Elvis T), is by contrast one of the weakest tunes on the compilation in my opinion. The ceaseless beeps that crowd its high-end become obnoxious after the first minute of listening, and the bass, while well processed, is too in your face and unsubtle for my taste. The seventh track, ‘Lights From The Pleiades’ by Dorian Gray, another Italian producer, is a good tune, but at the same time a frustrating one. A deceptively complex bass rumble (when I listened carefully I realised there was a lot going on in that low-end) propels the track forward, while the “light” in the title comes from the ghostly shimmer of synth drifting like smoke over the bassline, gradually coalescing into something that resembles a choir of ethereal voices. It’s masterfully produced, but too short; the track feels like the buildup to something potentially spectacular, but just as I was getting properly into it, it ended.

 

I was excited to listen to track eight, ‘Resplendent’ by Xanexx. Xanexx is one of my favorite Korean DJs by far, to the point where I’ve gone out a few times this year with the specific aim of catching a Xanexx set. His DJing is always transcendentally good, a searing, visceral sonic assault on the dancefloor, and I was very interested in hearing what his production sounded like. Fortunately, he didn’t disappoint. ‘Resplendent’ reminded me a little of the work of Shanghai-based producer Tzusing at first, featuring broken drum rhythms surrounded by a crawling and slithering mass of acid synth, but as the track goes on  the brutality of the drum-work is offset by glowing pads that would have sounded almost angelic if heard in isolation, a sensation of light that grows more and more pronounced until by the end the track is more ethereal than it is aggressive.

 

 

 

The ninth track, ‘Avia’ by UK-born producer Deepbass, sounds to me as if Deepbass was trying to invoke the nostalgic sound of 90s anthem trance, but filtered through a much darker contemporary lens. Insistent, endlessly repeating synth rhythms and helicopter blade bass drive the track forward as the percussion breaks against them like waves crashing on some distant and ancient beach. ‘Avia’ is followed by ‘Control’ by DJ Sodeyama. The Japanese producer is arguably one of the biggest names on the compilation, and his track is definitely one of its standout moments. A powerful kick drum sits front and centre holding everything together while the occult electronics that hiss and sputter and shriek around it menace the listener from the shadows, a host of alien noises that feel somehow alive, as if the synthesizers themselves have somehow gained sentience. From a DJs perspective I think this is probably one of the most interesting tracks on offer here – I can imagine it absolutely devastating dancefloors if mixed right.

 

The penultimate track, ‘Vann’ by Astronomy Domine, is one of the most abstract tunes on offer here. The Sardinian producer first assembles a complex mosaic of found sound and natural noises – rising wind, birdsong, snapping twigs, clinking metal, the splash of raindrops, the crunch of gravel, and about a dozen others I couldn’t even begin to identify – and then takes a dub techno bassline to it like a sledgehammer, smashing the soundscape into fragments that are gradually drowned out by splashes of echo-laden percussion and the occasional slab of gnarled synthetic noise. It leads into the final track on the compilation, ‘Obscured Facts’ by Scøpe. Here Scøpe, who runs the SCOPÁVIK label and podcast and the SCOPÁVIK club nights at vurt., immediately grabs the listeners attention with an infectious combination of growling bassline and syncopated kick drum thud. They’re soon joined by some of the crispest, sharpest hats I’ve ever heard and more undulating pads that once again feel reminiscent of a choir of voices, giving the whole track a kind of gothic ambience. Around the halfway mark the track is overwhelmed by what sounds like a swarm of cybernetic insects, which then begins to degrade and deform, dragging ‘Obscured Facts’ down with it into a spiralling vortex of hypnotic sound.

 

Though it falls flat a couple of times, as an overall listening experience 10 Years of ECI Korea is a fitting tribute to a fine label. Each producer in the collection brings something slightly different to the table, and the blend of ambient or abstract tunes and club-orientated body music cuts means that there’s a little bit of something for everyone here, from home listening techno heads to DJs looking for more secret weapons to get people grooving. Personally, I’m really looking forward to hearing these tunes out on Seoul’s dancefloors over the next few months – and to hopefully another decade (or more!) of quality techno from ECI Korea.

 

10 Years of ECI Korea is available for purchase at ECI Korea’s Bandcamp page.

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