CHAIN REACTION / BASIC CHANNEL
Dance column, Spin 1998
by Simon Reynolds
PORTER RICKS Biokinetics
MAURIZIO untitled CD
VARIOUS ARTISTS Decay Product
Think "house," and in your mind's ear you'll probably hear a thudding, metronomic kick-drum and a shrieking soul-diva. Nearly fifteen years on from its Chicago genesis, house has evolved way beyond this original, winning formula, and diversified into at least a dozen subgenres. From the disco cut-up style popularised by Daft Punk to the unhinged abstraction of nu skool Chicago label Relief, the most exciting contemporary house is designed for "track-heads"--purist connoisseurs who prefer minimal tracks to anthemic songs. I don't like purists either, but if the truth be known, when pop music's final reckoning is done, house is not going to be remembered for adding to the sum of "great songs," nor for its pantheon of distinctive vocalists. Its real contribution and innovation resides
In this spirit, the Berlin label Chain Reaction have distilled house down to its essence: no songs, no vocals, barely any melodies, sometimes not even a beat. What, you might wonder, is left after such
ruthless pruning? Texture and pulse-rhythm. Or more precisely, texture-rhythm as an indivisible plasma-like substance that is molded and extruded through dub-space. Take Chain Reaction's aesthetic pinnacle to date, "Resilient 1.2": a slow-motion tsunamai of ego-melting,
body-boundary-haemorrhaging bliss. Some people call the Chain Reaction sound "heroin house"; "Resilient 1.2" actually reminds me of Velvet Underground's "Heroin". A soundtrack in waiting for the first zero-gravity nightclub, it was my favourite track of 1997; you can find it on the Chain
Reaction CD Decay Product, a compilation of tracks by the production team Various Artists.
Based out of Berlin's Hard Wax record store, Chain Reaction is the sister label of Basic Channel, whose nine 12-inch releases were the toast of techno-house cognoscenti throughout the mid-Nineties (but don't let that put you off!). Devoted to vinyl, the mysterious figures behind the twin labels established their own pressing plant. This makes Chain Reaction's series of single-artist CD compilations--encased in striking metal cans that resemble DJs's record boxes--a sort of ideological lapse, a concession to the market realities of the digital era.
Prise open the cannisters, and on tracks like Maurizio's "M6", Vainqueur's "Reduce 2" and Porter Ricks' "Port Gentil" you'll encounter electronic music as warmly cocooning and spongy as the lining of the womb. What initially sounds monotonous reveals itself as an endlessly inflected, fractal mosaic of glow-pulses and flicker-riffs. Using studio-processes like EQ, filtering, phasing and panning to tweak the frequencies and stereo-imaging of their sonic motifs, CR artists weave tantalising
tapestries whose strands shift in and out of the aural spotlight. The effect is synaesthetic, like fingertips tremulously caressing your neck.
Although CR artists would probably distance themselves from rave's drug culture, their music sounds like Ecstasy sensations encoded in sound, abstracted into a velcro-sticky audio-fabric that tugs at your skin-surface and gets your goosebumps rippling in formation. Melody is minimal--limited
to rudimentary vamps and ostinatos--because it's just a device for displaying sound-in-itself. Simple motifs twist the timbre-fabric in order to best show off its properties, making you thrill to the scintillating play of creases and folds, crinkles and kinks.
CR music isn't all opiated oblivion: Monolake's "Lantau" and "Macau" are like Cantonese reggae, while Porter Ricks material often has an abrasive industrial tinge, reflecting the fact that one half of the duo is acclaimed ambient experimentalist Thomas Koner. But my favorite CR output
is the stuff that offers a sublime surrogate for MDMA experience, a bliss-space you can access at any time then leave, without cost or comedown. That said, this music's appeal extends way beyond ravers--anyone who's ever swooned to neo-psychelicists like Spacemen 3 and My Bloody
Valentine, or been mesmerised by minimalists like Steve Reich, will find almost unbearable pleasures here.
As well as Chain Reaction's own CD and vinyl 12 inch output (available at domestic prices), addicts will want to search out the artists's releases on other labels: Porter Ricks' self-titled album on
Mille Plateaux, Various Artists's glistening pulsescape "No.8" on Fatcat. Porter Ricks also created a fine remix album, The Koner Experiment, based on music by Experimental Audio Research--a collective that includes ex-Spacemen 3 leader Sonic Boom and MBV's Kevin Shields. That fact alone
that should seduce any hesitant psych-guitar fiends into taking the plunge.
2013 postscript: "heroin house" it should be noted was in fact the coinage of Kevin Martin aka The Bug, then doing a lot of writing about music as well as making of it.
live at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage
Village Voice, Tuesday, Jul 3 2001
by Simon Reynolds
No doubt about it, the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage is an amazing space. As a music venue, though, this gloomy maze of looming, steep-sided chambers leaves a lot to be desired: Performers tend to drown in a quagmire of reflected sound. On June 28, the final installment of Creative Time's annual series of avant-electronica events (a 10th birthday bash for Frankfurt's Force Inc and its sister label, Mille Plateaux) saw some groups faring better with the acoustics than others. Panacea's 180-b.p.m. Gothkore bombast suited the medieval ambience, but Kid606's set was too busy and event-crammed (Boredoms do IDM) to thrive in this catacomb. SND suffered from the opposite syndrome: Too sparse even for the Anchorage, they sounded like an ailing metronome trapped in an echo chamber.
Luckily, Porter Ricks fit the space like a glove. Thomas Köner and Andy Mellweg first came to acclaim with their late-'90s releases on Chain Reaction, Berlin's "heroin house" label. Combining Köner's texturology (he's an avant-garde composer renowned for bleak arctic dronescapes) with Mellweg's grasp of house's pump-and-pound rhythm, Porter Ricks make formlessness funky.
But that's no preparation for how hard they rocked tonight: Imagine Eno's On Land meets the Stooges. Porter Ricks use a guitar processor on all their synth sounds, which helps explains the added grit in their grind. Early in the set, the songs felt like spelunking through spongy-walled caverns flushed with foamy water: total body-massage. But as the beat got steadily more bangin' and the texture-riffs flared fierce like magnesium, Porter Ricks hit a sublime pitch midway between warm pulse and cold rush: a sound as visceral as hardcore, as sensuous as deep house, as abstract as glitch. The combination of this glorious roar and the Anchorage's architecture was like being teleported through time-space to Berlin's legendary early-'90s club E-Werk, a disused power plant. Finally, the Anchorage became the rave temple it has always promised to be