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Sandwell District Sandwell DistrictFeed Forward

8.6 / 10

SANDWELL DISTRICT

There was a time when Karl O’Connor ( Regis) wasn’t a techno fundamentalist but an Atila the Hun hanging from the side of his runaway horse, clearing all the grass. He was causing terror, sandpapering your ears and causing heavy stomach pains with productions rooted in the most violent era of industrial music that seemed recomposed on vinyl like the incandescent magma of techno without feelings, a blast of basslines and cutting sounds. The golden age of what was called “the Birmingham sound”, halfway through the nineties –with Surgeon at the epicentre as well, and the Downwards label crew–, is full of 12”s to be exhumed, on which techno folded upon itself caused by its own pressure; it was an anxious sound that annihilated any attempt at hedonist consumption, as all the pleasure that could be found was that caused by the pain of the lashes and blows, like in an S&M session. On Downwards we also find the origin of other usual suspects of the erupting techno that, years later, we find in the renovation of the aesthetic pillars of Birmingham: Peter Sutton (better known as Female) and David Sumner, alias Function, former member of Portion Reform alongside Regis, and the driving force of Sandwell District. Energy isn’t destroyed, it transforms.

And, in a way, “Feed Forward” symbolises the end of a long period in the wilderness for these veterans of visceral techno. It’s a kind of poetic justice. It wouldn’t be exaggerated to say that the techno scene hasn’t treated Regis, Function and Female well –especially as Regis has never left the forefront of the movement, both in British Murder Boys alongside Surgeon and O/V/R with James Ruskin, and Function has finally gotten the prestige he deserved and which in the end went to those who took his sound and commercialised it (Ben Sims, anyone?). It can’t hurt to insist: these men deserved more than they got. This album –or “total artefact”, as it’s and object of art, very similar to the releases on DeepChord of a few years ago: double transparent vinyl with an added 7” featuring bonus track and a fanzine designed by Juan Mendez– has the sobriety and aplomb of memorable records, and at a time when techno is feeble like a vampire exposed to the sun, maybe this is the best place to start a new era, a reconquest of the territory. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking: traditional techno has always been there, under the influence of dub and the history of Basic Channel, and now, under that of Detroit techno inherited from UR and with the distorted, industrialoid element of British hard techno, and will never disappear; it has guardian angels watching over its life. The roles are well distributed on Sandwell District –the group, not the label–: Sutton is there for moral support, Sumner constructs the bases and O’Connor alters them. Because O’Connor-Regis has never been a classic but an Atilla, and the omnipresent bad vibes on “Feed Forward” come from him.

The principal characteristic of the LP is its power and also its weakness. That characteristic is that it takes aspects of pure (and hard) techno made in Detroit –a lot of Robert Hood, Claude Young, Jeff Mills, Scan 7– and Birmingham-style distorting elements, all of it post-produced in the clean-but-intense way of the German material popularised by Ostgut Ton (because Function resides in Berlin and the influence of the city is inevitable, like it or not). The power is its unmistakable quality: the A-side of the first vinyl is an ambient intro and outro suite and a heart (“Immolare”) that beats with the excessive fury of a tachycardia, while “Falling The Same Way” refers to the Detroit episodes on labels like R&S, not to mention “Speed + Sound (Endless)” and its arpeggio of cosmic sequencing and references, probably involuntary, to 69’s “Rushed”. The weakness is the abundance of classic resources and unshakable seriousness, in a combination of minimalism, serious gesture and absence of humour. The bonus 7” adds two ambiental and cold cuts that remind us of the influence Coil had on the aesthetic formation of Regis. Regis lacks some courage in his role within the trio, which is that of the distorter of strategies: he hasn’t forced the machine so that it would sprout more violence, more chaos, more distortion, more noise, more beats with a knife between its teeth. But that’s a balance game with Function and a team sport, and the important thing is the collective. Once prejudice and the wish for individual glory are out of the way, that’s when the value of “Feed Forward” manifests itself: it is, quite possibly, one of the best techno albums of the past years. It doesn’t show us the way of the future, like Actress’ “Splazsh”, but it does set the record straight and clears the way to march forward without pressure. Let the next dose come quickly, if it’s not too much to ask:

Javier Blánquez

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