Tag Archives: Opal Tapes

The Experimental Electronic Netherworld of Basic House

Basic House

Whether making music as Basic House or running his label Opal Tapes, maverick producer Stephen Bishop has consistently charted his own path. A self-proclaimed fan of both dance music and pop, as well as the fringe stylings his own output favors, the U.K.-based Bishop has varied his approach over Basic House’s releases while retaining a semblance of techno and house music’s core foundation in traditional beats. Not so his latest full-length, I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me, on which Bishop abandons rhythm almost entirely, in favor of creepy ambient spaces.

Fittingly enough, the album derives its title from artist Trevor Paglen’s 2007 book of the same name, a photo collection of patches from top-secret military “black ops.” But as bone-chilling as the new material gets, Bishop also sees the album as a commentary on underground music scenes and their codes. In the early days of Opal Tapes, for example, Bishop initially balked at selling digital versions of the label’s catalog, preferring instead to dub every single cassette by hand. These days, of course, he subscribes to a more pragmatic approach that offers the best of both worlds.

Case in point: The second Basic House album on Luke Younger (aka Helm)’s A L T E R imprint, I Could Tell You, is also available via Opal Tapes in an expanded NOYFB! box-set edition that features a bonus album, Puke Your Horizon, assembled from a blend of live performances and field recordings.

Bishop spoke with us about the new album and its intersection of themes.

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Hi Bias: Notable Cassette Releases on Bandcamp, January 2017

HI BIAS

Welcome to Hi Bias, a monthly column highlighting recent cassette releases on Bandcamp, and exploring the ideas behind them with the artists who made them. Rather than making sweeping generalizations about the “cassette comeback,” we prefer here simply to cover releases that may escape others’ radar due to their limited, cassette-focused availability.

Arvo Zylo, Sequencer Works Volume Three (Personal Archives)

Over the past few years, Chicago musician Arvo Zylo has been time-traveling. He’s combed through vast archives of music made on his Yamaha RM1x sequencer—much of it stored on CD-Rs and floppy disks—to create a three-volume series called Sequencer Works. “There was quite a lot that I didn’t remember doing at all,” he says via email.  “But the tracks that are on Sequencer Works have never left my mind.  They have been nagging me to find a home for the whole time.”

Nagging is a good way to describe the music on the third volume of Sequencer Works. Zylo’s rhythmically-persistent music gets under your skin, noisy textures morphing through a wide-ranging series of throbbing beats and aggressive soundscapes. “I was never able to make proper music,” he admits.  “Everything I do is with a device being pushed to its limits.” There are a few hints of influences—the tape begins with a variation on Ministry’s “Stigmata” (renamed “Fuckmata”) and ends with a cover of Flipper’s “Life is Cheap”—but most of Sequencer Works Volume Three is a journey to the center of Zylo’s own musical mind.

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A Starter Guide to the Lo-Fi House Scene

Ross From Friends

Ross From Friends

At the beginning of December, London’s UNDRGRND Sounds, a company that creates software starter kits of readymade sounds for dance producers, issued a new pack called “Lo-Fi House.” That might seem puzzling to a dance-music aficionado—until you notice just how many recent tracks have that moniker applied to them, and how well those tracks have been doing online.

Of course, house music was lo-fi from the beginning: Some of Chicago house godfather Frankie Knuckles’ first recordings were recorded in a DJ booth onto cassette. And “lo-fi” is hardly a new idea—just think of mid ‘90s lo-fi indie rock, made on cheap TEAC four-track recorders in reaction to the glossy “alternative” sound that had taken over the rock airwaves. Like that music, lo-fi house is futzy sounding rather than fussy sounding—clunky rather than pristine. And although a handful of venues play the music—notably Find Me in the Dark, the night put on by Lobster Theremin label head Jimmy Asquith at London’s Corsica Studios—lo-fi house is largely an internet-based phenomenon. Its adherents congregate around the Strictly Lo-Fi Facebook group, as well as numerous YouTube and SoundCloud clearinghouses. One of 2016’s defining dance tracks, DJ Boring’s “Winona,” is closing in on 600,000 YouTube views (it’s not on Bandcamp, alas) in less than three months.

“I suppose subconsciously it could be seen as a reaction to this hi-fi soundscape which we’re living in, where every producer is striving toward perfection,” Ross From Friends, one of lo-fi house’s key names, said in early August. “It’s kind of like [people are saying], ‘We’re going to stick with the old school and keep it analog and not have anything over 10,000 Hz audible in our music.’ I do it because I’ve gained a real love for the old school sound, where it really just sounds worn-out and knackered, and it’s got a lot of character. Everything’s very crushed and compressed.” That compression is a big part of why lo-fi house works so well as a Web phenomenon: Many times, these tracks are made for headphone consumption, not for big sound systems. Here are eight notable examples on Bandcamp.

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