CD, Hands Productions, 2004
Germany’s Hands Productions has been spearheading the European rhythmic noise/industrial techno scene for about a decade now; this sampler, released to coincide with the Forms of Hands 2004 festival in Essen at the start of May, finds most of the label’s key artists in striking, if occasionally unsurprising, form.
The compilation opens with a three-part collaborative mix from stalwarts MS Gentur and Mono No Aware, phasing in and out of an unrelenting 4/4 backbone overlaid with ever-present layers of distorted atmospherics. Next, Panacea collaborator Needle Sharing — never one to defer to popular notions of good taste — perks things up a bit with his trademark mental drum’n’bass antics in “Sick Fag”. This is clearly the standout dancefloor track of the album, provided your local club crowd are not allergic to breakbeats.
Needle Sharing’s almost cartoon-esque levity throws the following two tracks, by Synth-Etik and Winterkälte, into sharp relief, and illustrate the difference between producers who really know how to make a dancefloor move, and those who resort to ever harder-faster-louder beats – and eventually more and more fractured progressions — in order to make an impression. Don’t get me wrong, I am as fond of these bands as any other noise freak, but I am not as convinced of their utility in a club setting as some – they lack groove. The same could be said of MS Gentur and Mono No Aware’s contributions, as well as Punch Inc.’s offering “Shock & Awe” later on (nice title though).
Punch Inc. aside, the second half of the album shows much more diversity and experimentalism than the first. Newcomers Schachtanlage Gegenort (I hadn’t heard of them before, at least) bring us a glorious slice of arrhythmic noise in an old-school Merzbow vein, pitched just right so that listening is a joy rather than an ordeal, and incorrigible tinkerer Xabec wrings a deep, dark ambient passage out of his largely-homemade studio setup with characteristic panache. S.I.N.A. bring us back into danceable territory with “Listen”, not their finest moment certainly, but notable as the only vocal track on the CD. Ah Cama-Sotz are similarly notable for contributing the only track that steers entirely clear of overdriven sounds, in favour of an ambient-dub flavour and a knowing tip-of-the-hat to early Aphex Twin, while Orphx round things off with a hypnotic Pan Sonic-style composition built largely of glitches, throbs and pulses.
My only reservation about this album is Needle Sharing’s neanderthal homophobia – not that it is restricted to the example here – and I sincerely hope that he is a gay man being tongue-in-cheek rather than a genuine bigot, and if so, I hope his fans know.
It’s great to see an influential label like Hands continue to push the boundaries, evolving past the constraints of crunch-crunch-crunch-crunch four-to-the-floor regularity, and staying one step ahead of the ranks of imitators and followers.
— Andrew Clegg