Percussion Lab News & Updates
Percussion Lab keeps you up to date with news, ramblings, and anything else music related from our sphere of artists, DJs, labels, friends and contributors.

NOVEMBER 15, 2010

As one of the original developers of the now ubiquitous Ableton Live software, Robert Henke has established himself as something of a producer’s producer. Not only are his studio efforts - recorded under the revered Monolake monikier - impeccably executed, masterfully EQed and buffed to a lustrous sheen, his approach to performance and command of the software as an honest to goodness instrument is second to none. When we caught wind of this special edition of the Bunker featuring a set by Henke in surround sound alongside Scion, DJ Pete and René Löwe – which is to say the classic Chain Reaction roster – we simply couldn’t resist.

Despite a last minute venue change that left the Bunker crew scrambling to secure a new location, the evening started off smoothly. The sound system was perfectly tuned and the vibe was relaxed and positive right from the outset. Even the crowd seemed pumped, which if you’ve ever spent much time going out in NYC, is indeed a true rarity.

Ken Meier, a local Brooklyn stalwart with affiliations to Fear of Music, started the evening off, plunging things into the deep end right from the beginning. He delivered a deftly mixed blend of shadowy techno that gracefully arced from slightly chilled to immersive and upbeat over the course of his set. It was an ideal warm up for Scion, who brought to bear their signature dub techno sound, all oozing bass, rolling echoes and shimmering reverb anchored by a stoic 4/4 pulse. It was hardly the sort of ‘hands in the air’ fare one might expect from one of the most respected outfits operating in techno today, but it was tastefully understated and expertly structured, locking the dance floor in from the start. The only quibble we had with their performance was its brevity; they could have played for 5 hours and nobody would have minded a bit.

As Scion brought the fader down on their last selection to rapturous applause, Henke and his accompanying visualist, Tarrik Barri, took their positions behind the mountain of laptops and gear that had been sitting patiently in the middle of the dance floor. The set started off in decidedly abstract territory, cycling through a selection of broken rhythms and chirping atmospherics before settling into a real groove; but once things warmed up, there was no denying that Henke’s primary intention was to bulldoze the dance floor.

For the next 90 minutes or so, the room was a mass of movement as he doused us with wave after wave of unrelenting techno. There were bits of rhythms and melodies peppered throughout the set that could be identified as having been lifted from Henke’s studio recordings, but Henke managed to achieve a loose, off the cuff sort of feel, lending the performance an improvisatory air. Paired with Barri’s visuals, which echoed the imaginary shapes and futuristic urban landscapes that grace the covers of many of Henke’s releases, this became less a mere dance party and more an immersive multimedia experience.

It was a bit of a disappointment to learn that the cops were on their way as Monolake’s set drew to a close, but it almost seemed to be for the best. Sure, DJ Pete’s set was cut short and René Löwe never even got to play, but after the masterful display put on by Scion on Monolake few in the room really had much left in them. We stumbled back out into the Brooklyn streets, minds blown and ears muddled. While there was no denying that Henke had lived up to his reputation, he also managed to reaffirm that there is, in fact, still life left in techno. Indeed, from where we stood, the genre seemed just as vibrant and fertile as ever.

Posted by Carl Ritger | 0 comments

SEPTEMBER 16, 2010

Oval - Oh and O
Words by Carl Ritger

When it comes to the vaguely defined genre that is ‘experimental’ music, Markus Popp, the mastermind behind the acclaimed Oval project, has always been the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Not only is Popp perfectly capable of talking circles around the most prominent music and cultural theorists, he is responsible for developing his own software and invented the glitch genre virtually singlehandedly. His CV is extensive, boasting a healthy run of albums, art installations and collaborative projects; but roughly 9 years ago, shortly after the release of Ovalcommers, he went silent and just sort of dropped off the map. There were a bare handful of live appearances during this time, but other than that, the Oval project was presumed to have run its course. That was until this spring, when Thrill Jockey unexpectedly began promoting the release of two new Oval works: Oh and O.

Billed as a departure from his revered earlier works, these albums were intended to be a sort of ‘fresh start’ for the Oval aesthetic. Popp himself stated that he wanted this material to be received as a sort of second debut, and by all accounts he was successful in that pursuit. Indeed, to the casual observer, Oh and O have little in common with the crackling digital constructs of Popp’s past self; instead, by virtue of its decidedly organic sonic palette – this could almost be considered Oval’s “pop” period. Instead of sine tones and DSP-generated artifacts, we’re presented with guitars, drums, and in lieu of drifting ambience and shapeless noise, we’re confronted with structure, rhythm and honest to goodness melody.

Shunning digital processing and Popp’s homebrewed software applications, this work was realized utilizing an outdated PC, a couple of MIDI controllers, Ableton Live and off the shelf VSTs – a bold transition for an artist whose reputation had been built more on coding than actual musical chops. With that said, Popp has hardly abandoned the fundamental themes of his previous output: the glitch. If anything, these new works find the Oval project heading into unexplored territory within the context of glitch. Rather than ruminating on digital interference and the inherent flaws of manmade technology, Popp has opted to take a wider view, exploring the inherent – though richly patterned – chaos of nature.

But what of the music itself? Comprised of 76 tracks in total, the full digital edition of O tops out at over two hours of material, while Oh is a comparatively brief affair, spreading a mere 15 tracks across two sides of vinyl. To state the obvious, that’s a whole lot of sound to consume, but moaning about Popp’s need for an editor misses the point entirely. Presented as a library of brief vignettes that range in length from a mere 30 seconds to just shy of five minutes, these recordings form a sonic environment intended to be set in motion and lived with for awhile. Appealing to Brian Eno’s original tenets of ambient music aesthetics, O and Oh are as unobtrusive as they are rewarding to close listening, more a collection of aural mobiles shimmering in the wind than refined, self-contained “compositions,” in the conventional sense of the word. All sputtering harmonic patterns and fractured melodic lines interwoven to craft a weirdly beautiful soundscape, this is sound art that somehow manages to come off as both deeply familiar and utterly alien all at once.

Aesthetic analyses and contextual rambling aside, O and Oh represent a rare peak inside the creative evolution of one of the most vital artists of the past 15 years. Instead of cashing in and appealing to his fans with a predictable rehash of his past glories like so many other titans of the scene, Popp went back to the drawing board and recast Oval in order to explore new terrains. In the process, he’s managed to simultaneously appease his needs as an artist and keep things fresh for his audience…and it sounds damn nice, to boot.

Posted by Carl Ritger | 1 comments


It's been a while since my last post. Blame it on vacation, stress, whatever. You've missed me, I know. Turns out it's been exactly long enough for Mary Anne Hobbs to be taking her final bow tonight, with Burial and Kode 9 manning the decks to commemorate the occasion. So get locked (9-11 EST, available on that link for a week afterwards).

In other news, Sepalcure dropped an XLR8R mix; The Orb's been playing with David Gilmour; and Juke has taken over the world. Get some.

Oh, also? I LOVE this tune. How about you? Be honest! Like dancing on the subway love. You?

AUGUST 18, 2010

Maybe you don't know her, maybe you do. Even if you think you don't, if you're reading this site and digging this music, you've felt her influence in the slew of amazing artists she's championed over the years. She's known on air and online as call the Real Queen of England. She's the most influential women in bass music, and she's pretty much solely responsible for making dubstep, wonky, bleepy, bass heavy sounds as hot as they are on the global scene right now.

From her shows in the early '00s on Radio 1's Breezeblock, to her tenure as the genre-defining host of BBC 1 Experimental, Ms. Hobbs has discovered, fostered, nurtured, appreciated, and straight blown up more artists than most of us will meet or see perform in our lifetimes, including Sepalcure!

And now she's moving on. In a press release issued at the end of July, she announced her imminent departure from BBC 1.

For the last 6 weeks of her tenure, Ms. Hobbs is gracing us with exclusive mixes from some of her favorite artists. The series kicked off with Ramadanman; last week saw Skream taking the decks; and tonight, the mighty Joker drops a set of purple HEAT!




Thanks Mary Anne! Wherever you end up, we'll be listening...