Tuesday, 22 December 2009
Given all this end of year, end of decade nonsense, and the fact that I find myself back in the UK for only the second time in a year, I thought it a fitting time to address an issue that has been bugging me for a while. RA have just delivered their end of year lists, as have LWE and FACT.
What can we take from these lists? Well, firstly, and perhaps inescapably (I'm keen to get this out of the way as quickly as possible), it has been a good year for Joy Orbision. His 'Hyph Mngo' tops the FACT and RA lists. I side with Reynolds on this one - an uninspiring track 'for the headz to nod off to'. What else?
Well, it's clear that 2009 has been the year shit got deep. The transition from minimal crustiness to how-deep-can-we-go insouciance is pretty well documented, and I don't really want to go into it here. However, after a year living in Berlin, I thought I would try to examine where this has left minimal. Philip Sherburne is doing some interesting archival work on his website examining how minimal (or mnml) has changed over the last decade, but it remains a thoroughly retrospective exercise, the blogosphere's intellectualized version of "I Love the Noughties". We all laugh as Richie tweets his set lists, safe in the knowledge that listening to the DJ Sprinkles album makes us a better man than him, but to acknowledge the fall of minimal is also to try and trace its continued relevance, just as DnB took over the rest of Europe whilst it spluttered to a ghastly death in the UK.
Ironically, for all the critical/blogosphere idolisation of Berlin (and London for those funky/UK bass/dubstep/future garage headz out there) as the epicentre for all things tech, deep house has arguably had a lesser impact there than it has had in other places (namely specialised sites for the consumption of deep house: think Sud nights in London, Trus Me's Disco3K festival in Croatia, late Sunday afternoons in Panoramabar). Berlin actually still has a lingering love affair with mnml that reminds me of London's love/hate position towards DnB at the turn of the millennium. You can't forget that it was mnml which created the modern electronic Disneyland that is the "Berlin" of the Easyjetset's wildest dreams, and the sound persists in a stubborn, uncompromising form.
One need only go into any club that isn't Watergate or Berghain, preferably mid-week, to be assaulted by this new breed of minimal from labels such as Autist, Budenzauber, Italo Business and at the more well-known end of the spectrum, Tom Clarke's Highgrade. The sound pushed by these labels, and the associated artists, is an updated form of mnml. Tracks like this, and this, perfectly sum up this new breed. We've still got what Sherburne calls the clicks and cuts (although if anything, less cliques and cuts), but these have been yoked to an avowedly un-mnml beat that has borrowed freely from 2007/8's tech-house paradigm (think Nick Curly, Jamie Jones et al).
The other thing that is interesting about this new wave of neo-mnmlism is that very little of it is German. Arguably, this has always been the case: Robert Hood, Steve Reich, Richie Hawtin, John Acquaviva and so on were adopted and consumed by the German early to mid-noughties minimalists in the same way that Motorcity Drum Ensemble and Sascha Dive are consuming the Strictly Rhythm back catalogue at the moment. But these neo-mnmlists are by and large, Italian. Sure you always had your Marco Carolas, but the new face of mnmlism is, on the whole, more Latin than Teutonic: Andrea Giuliani, Luca Rossetti, Andrea Tamburini, Stephan Barnem. Oh, and they're young. Fucking young. Usually late teens, early twenties. Perhaps most intriguingly though, is the fact that they all seem to be coming through at the same time. Check out Francesco Bonora's '18 minutes to 2009' released on Model in February. The implication, clear as day, is that 2009 is not about this critically adored/maligned deep house business, but instead Italian mnml.
Yet this isn't an isolated Italian scene, taking place somewhere on the Neapolitan peninsula. It has its aim fixed squarely on BLN. One need only check the best compilation of this stuff yet to surface. It's called 'Winter In Berlin'. It's even got a track called 'Open the Watergate' by M_Ferri (note the interesting reappropriation of the M_nus logo/name). And if you still don't believe me, go to Golden Gate, a club under Jannowitzbrücke, on a Thursday or Friday evening. Not only will tunes of this ilk be rinsed until 3pm of the next day, everyone in there, and especially those selling drugs, will be Italian.
It seems to me like the situation we had a few years back when Umek and Marko Nastic borrowed freely from northern European, and US techno, but fitted it for their European audiences in Serbia and Slovenia. They upped the BPM, toned down the industrial austerity, and ratcheted up the progressive, almost psychedelic elements, and in so doing, like Stephen Daedalus in 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man', they 'forge in the smithy of [their] souls the uncreated conscience of [their] race.'
I have no desire to speculate what this neo-mnmlism says about the uncreated conscience of young Italian mnml producers, or if it plays any part in a larger Italian socio-political narrative, but I will say that under their tutelage, mnml, for the first time in at least five or six years, feels important again. Whether or not this is an act of nostalgia, prompted by the critical ubiquity of deep house (even if that critical ubiquity is not paralleled by a physical ubiquity in Berlin), remains to be seen, but in a fucked up, quasi-nostalgic way, here's hoping. Avanti ragazzi.