The District

Guy Freedom on the decks live

The word “Techno” tends to raise a very wide spectrum of associations for almost anyone with the slightest connection to dance-floors, sweat, sore knees and that stupid smile on his or her face when music is playing. We could spend days lecturing and explaining about the origin of Techno music throughout the years. This music, where pure energy is sawn into repetitive beats and hypnotic elements, has gone through so many changes. In some of those changes and variations a key component was too easily removed from it. Without the repetitive rhythms we are left with music fit for elevators, without the hypnotic elements we are left with a nerve wrecking rumble and without the pure energy attached we are left with, well…rubbish.

In the last half a decade, give or take a year, I had some difficulties finding good Techno that can keep all the essential goods of the old techno while still being innovative and surprising, not giving the feeling that it was sent out of a factory and sounds like a thousand other things. For years great Techno artists stripped themselves of their own identity, mostly in order to fit into the season’s shapes and flavors and keep on making money for a living. The experiment is usually a failure and it appears as if the hole in their heart does its trick, as more and more of them are crawling back to the safety of their origin and the sounds that made them famous. Still, with an ever growing flow of ever improving Techno, it’s still not easy finding “the thing” – that button which once pressed provides the warm feeling in the joints and the feeling that “everything is great” in all other body parts. When something like that is found it’s worth an article. But before we get to it – It’s time for “Chemistry 101”.

A mixture is a substance made of a few other substances or elements, bonded in the molecular level but maintaining the original components’ properties. A compound is also made of several substances but in a compound the new material has a whole new set of properties, making it something completely different. The electronic music industry has an abundance of mixtures but not enough compounds.

One of the musical mixture’s flaws is that usually one of its components (producers/djs) is very dominant, so the mixture is actually that component decorated with some confetti and half a loop. It is not unacceptable and quite often the outcome is good or even excellent, but this is still not “the thing” I mentioned earlier. That “thing” has to be one hell of a compound. I found “the thing” in “Sandwell District“. It’s a label, it’s an ensemble, it’s a collective, it’s Techno, it’s atmospheric, it packs a punch and yet can also scratch your back. It’s different yet sounds familiar in the back of the head. It’s hypnotic, it’s addictive, it’s high and also low, but most important – it sounds like nothing else.
But what IS Sandwell District? SD are a bunch of producers and djs all coming from the world of Techno, who decided to join forces and create an artistic – musical apparatus and came up with a compound… one hell of a compound.

“The electronic music industry has an abundance of mixtures but not enough compounds.”

Karl O’Connor, a.k.a Regis, produces Techno since the early 90’s and also owns the experimental and energetic music label “Downwards”. Judging by the Regis vinyl pieces I have, you could easily mistake this guy as a lumberjack in past life, which makes the Sandwell District story twice as interesting. Back in 2000 O’connor, together with another SD member called Peter Sutton (or “Female” on stage), provided a jaw-dropping example of what he believes Techno can be, when they released their “Against Nature” album in the respected German label “Tresor”. The album was a made of raw techno samples, combined with “organic” sounds recorded outside. As some of you may know differentiation is considered a mental illness that gets worse as time goes by, and the duo, unsatisfied with Tresor’s castrated version of their electronic axes, re-released the album in 2010 on their own label, just as its creators meant it to sound.

Dave Sumner is an Americam playing and producing Techno for the past 15 years using the alias “Function”. His story begins with numerous dropped jaws due to one Jeff Mills playing in the NY Limelight nights. His blessed friendship with Regis gave birth to some cooperation and “mixtures” throughout the years, and he also got to be the only producer not from Birmingham (UK) to release music in “Downwards”. Until Sumner showed up, it appears, O’connor and Sutton just failed to find a soul twisted enough to join them from outside Birmingham (something in the water, perhaps?).

When the door to the US opened wide, the musical orgy was joined by John “Juan” Mendez, a gifted dj a.k.a “Silent Servant”, born in central America and went all the way to Birmingham and Sandwell District after a coincidental meeting with Karl O’connor in 1999, just a moment before the world is nearly lost to the Y2K bug. Now with the square fully formed – we can get to business.

At the end of 2010 the Sandwell District collective released a Techno album named “Feed Forward” which manages to be not only an album filled with amazing Techno tracks but also a complete and spectacular electronic story, starting from its prologue, through all the action and romance in the middle and all the way to the surprising end. On the cover of the album you can read the SD member names in the credits, as if this was a part of a movie. Each member had his role in the creation, from “Percussions” and “String Arrangement” to “Field Recording” and “Administration”. This is the kind of album I felt completely reluctant to dismantle in order to explain each of its tracks by itself. In addition, any attempt to determine who did what exactly would only meet an impassable wall of vagueness. There is no more Regis, Function, Female and Silent Servant. Please welcome Sandwell District.

O’connor and Sumner perform live in the guise of Sanswell district, which allows us to safely assume they are the more significant members (and let’s not forget that they are the original Birmingham based part of the collective), but these two words on a vinyl, even if one of the member names is explicitly mentioned, automatically starts an electrical chain reaction in the brain and an hormonal one elsewhere. In the album you can listen to a fair share of abstract arrangements (the vinyl version has a 7″ attached to it which is filled with abstract sounds) alongside pounding rhythms, hypnotic sounds and a collective intelligence which is by far one of the rarest finds in the Techno world. This fantastic four are a proof that sometimes the sum is greater than the sum of its parts and manage to define “Futuristic and Intelligent Techno” in its Wikipedia meaning, not only in this album but in all the other releases all around it. Sandwell District are a milestone in the world of Techno, currently looking for its way into the future.

The set you’re listening to is my 45 minute, 15 track and 100% vinyl interpretation of the Sandwell District story.
I’m not trying to reinvent them but merely to rearrange various SD musical layers as neat and tight as I possibly can with two turntables, providing a wide image of what they do today. Enjoy

Dj Guy “Freedom” – The District

1. Sandwell District – Where Next? (sampler 1) – Intro
2. Sandwell District – Where Next? (sampler 2) – Track by Female (live extract)
3. Sandwell District – Unknown 7″ (B side)
4. Sandwell District – Falling the Same Way (Function version)
5. Sandwell District – Speed & Sound
6. Sandwell District – Where Next? (sampler 1) – Track by Silent Servant (Regis edit)
7. Sandwell District – Where Next? (sampler 2) – Track by Female (Regis edit)
8. Sandwell District – Unknown 7″ (A side)
9. Sandwell District – Immolare (Function version)
10. Reality or Nothing – Sandwell District Versions (Function remix)
11. Sandwell District – Where Next? (sampler 2) – Track by Silent Servant
12. Nick Dunton – Between Worlds (Sandwell District remix)
13. Sandwell District – Hunting Lodge
14. Sandwell District – Svar
15. Sandwell District – Immolare (Final)

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