Wednesday, March 07, 2007

THE BLACK DOG: Book Of Dogma (Soma Recordings)

THE BLACK DOG
Book Of Dogma
SOMACD057
Soma Recordings Ltd 2007
22 Tracks. 109mins01secs




Buy it: CD
Dust Science Recordings | Soma Recordings Ltd

The year is 1989. Electronica is in its infancy. The rulebook is still being written. Ken Downie, Ed Handley and Andy Turner release their first EP, Age Of Slack, under the Black Dog banner. Blending classic Detroit techno and hip-hop, the trio are shaping the sound of their generation. A handful of EPs later, they get picked up by then budding Sheffield-based Warp Records and go on to release the highly influential Bytes, as Black Dog Productions, the name of their early label. The album, which is part of Warp’s seminal Artificial Intelligence series of releases, is assembled as a compilation, with the trio acting under a variety of aliases (Xeper, Balil, Atypic, Plaid, I.A.O.).

Fast-forward to today and Ken Downie is still heading his project. Following the departure of Handley and Turner, Black Dog has seen a few line-up changes, but in recent years, brothers Martin and Richard Dust have become permanent fixtures and the release pace has gained momentum, with no less than six EPs and an album issued in just over two years. Meanwhile, rare early records from the band’s first incarnation change hands for hundreds of pounds on auction sites and in second hand shops. After a lengthy restoration exercise undertaken by Downie and the Dust brothers, the band’s first six EPs are now collected here and released on Glasgow-based Soma Recordings.

The twenty two tracks collected on this album were recorded between 1988 and 1992 and formed the backbone of the emerging ‘electronic listening music’ movement which spawned the likes of Warp, Aphex Twin, Autechre, B12 and many more, all united under the ill-fated and long dead IDM tag, and still infiltrates electronic music today. The band’s use of odd time signatures, hip-hop samples and harsh electronics largely put them at odds with the rave scene of the time but made acceptable the notion that music with strong dance influences could be enjoyed in the comfort of a home, preferably on headphones.

The first of the two CDs collects the band’s long unavailable first three EPs, Age Of Slack and Virtual (1989) and Techno Playtime (1990), all released on Black Dog Productions. The band’s knack for infectious rhythms and grooves, which made Bytes one of the most compelling electronic albums of the nineties, is already clearly defined here, with tracks such as Virtual, Ambience With Teeth, The Age Of Slack, Techno Playtime or Seers & Sages showing the breadth of the band’s scope in their early years and the great maturity with which they set out through uncharted territories. Carving their way through complex rhythmic patterns, intricate sound formations and hyperactive melodic themes, Downie, Handley and Turner already demonstrate the kind of panache that later made Bytes such a phenomenal record.

The second CD features the Parallel Squelch and Vanttool EPs in their entirety, plus Virtual Hmmm and VIR2L taken from the VIR2L Remix EP. These three EPs were released on General Production Recordings between 1991 and 1992 and were compiled on an album, Parallel, in 1995. The progression from the earlier tracks is clear, with Parallel, Erb, Vanttool and Virtual Hmmm proving especially masterful upbeat and complex techno pieces. While the band’s sound appear more settled and focussed, the level of experimentation remains very high, with techno, acid, hip hop and ambient collide with insistent regularity.

Book Of Dogma doesn’t only document the rise of a band but also the genesis of a movement which, despite finding its roots in the US, is utterly British. The great majority of these tracks haven’t been available for years, yet they sound as fresh, modern and innovative today as they did then. Simply essential.

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