Friday, 28 February 2014

The Ten Best: Prologue

Munich based label Prologue are at the forefront of contemporary techno. They have built a back catalog of some of the most forward thinking and influential techno of recent memory, that ranges from the tribalisms of Dino Sabatini to the dark minimalism of Milton Bradley and the effervescent kaleidoscope of work that Donato Dozzy & Neel have produced as Voices from the Lake. The sound that Prologue have become known for has it roots in the much discussed but little known Italian scene, with legendary acidic pioneers such as Lory D and Leo Anibaldi has touchstones. Since the label's inception in 2008 their roster of artists have become truly international with artists from America (Mike Parker), Sweden (Abdulla Rashim) and Finland (Samuli Kemppi), showing that psychedelia in techno can be universal. The hit to miss ratio of their full lengths is without peer, and their 12" schedule consistently breaks new ground, showcasing new directions and forms in techno.


The Prologue sound fits in loosely with the minimalist, forward thinking production that has become a hallmark of modern techno. Inspired by collectives like Sandwell District who forged a path of cold, post-punk inspired darkness with a clinical and pointillist approach to found design, Prologue takes the base root idea but drenches it in an organic, warmer sound that begs to be heard blasting out in strange, lost mountain forest. Like Sandwell District who's manifesto was to update the classic, harder techno sound of the 90s, Prologue updates the trippier, heady vibes of people like Emmanual Top, Heiko Laux and Consumed era Plastikman. 2009 was their breakout year that was highlighted when RA editor Todd Burns profiled them as part of their label of the month feature. In 2012 the full length by Donato Dozzy & Neel Voices From The Lake topped many end of year charts that cemented their reputation as one of the most important labels of the time. Now in 2014 with the rise and abundance of a noise influenced, heavier sound tipped by producers like AnD and Karenn, Prologue's calm and considered approach seems even more refreshing and vital. In this feature, I run down 10 of the best cuts from a label that is full of potential highlights.

10. Echologist - Head On (2013) The Mechanics Of Joy   

For an artist that has become known for dub-tech, inward looking productions, Head On is surprisingly hard territory. The opening track of Echologist's debut release for Prologue leaves all sense of Chain Reaction idealizing at the door and replaces it with a peak time dance floor banger. Heavy subs beg you to turn your speakers up to ear damaging volumes and synths that sound like an artificial forest after dark, it's a bold new direction from Moeller. Complete with kicks that avoid a metronomic  4x4 beat, it's an impressive tune that manages to fit in with the Prologue sound but still retains a sense of individuality that sounds like nothing else in their catalog.

9. Lena Deen - Sleep Don't Come Easy (2012) Sleep Don't Come Easy

One of the most sonically isolated tunes that Prologue have ever released, Sleep Don't Come Easy is an interesting curiosity. The song starts off pleasingly enough with deep, heady drones and tension building hats. Then seemingly out of nowhere a breakbeat comes in. It's a startling, unexpected moment that sounds like a cross-pollination between a Dozzy and a Burial tune. Choral voices that were restrained in the back enter the foreground and turn the beat underneath into something more grandiose. As the opening track on Lena Deen's debut release, it leaves little doubt that this girl has a promising career ahead of her and one to watch for the future.

8. Cassegrain - Hyena (2012) Coptic

The third cut by British duo Cassegrain on their second release for Prologue explores how the territory between beats can be just as effective in peak time floor damage. A kick that hits every other beat and sounds like it comes straight out of a Kangding Ray tune is combined with short bursts of sub bass that make the song sound like it's traveling in slow motion. Complete with whistles, chirping crickets, noises that sounds like marbles rolling, stepping hats and warbling background drones, this tune is one of the finest that Cassegrain has ever produced and a near perfect distillation of what makes the duo so great.

7. Milton Bradley - Somewhere Beyond My Illusion (2010) The Unheard Voice From Outer Space

For a label that has become known for restrained minimalism, being one of the most stripped down songs in their discography is no small feat. Bridging the gap between ambient music and techno, Milton Bradley creates a dark and looming atmosphere that is almost militaristic in it's conservatism. Stripping back everything to their bare essentials, he creates an cosmic void of destroyed spaceships and broken stars. Apocalyptic drones are paired with a drenched, bass heavy kicks that combine to produce an effect of claustrophobic weightlessness. Sounding like Mundus Subterraneus era Lightwave but with a beat, if you ever feel yourself leaning towards the dark side, this is the perfect soundtrack to your twisted fantasies.

6. Claudio PRC - Nur (2013) L Synthesis

Claudio PRC is one of the finest artists to gain a following through Prologue. He specializes in producing psychedelic, heady techno that's at the darker end of the spectrum. Unlike a lot of producers who tread similar ground, he always leaves a sense of levity and playfulness in his tunes. The first half of Nur could easily have a similar vibe to the previous Milton Bradley tune were it not for the bounce and groove that he adds in the bass line and acidic synth washes over the top that sound like a beefed up version of Burn era Function. The majority of the song builds tension until finally over 4 minute in, we get the hat that moves the song along to it's final chapter. It's a daring move to leave the percussive higher frequencies until near the end of the song but one that adds context to the starkness of the first half.

5. Dino Sabatini - Ceto (2010) Daughter of Phorsys Recall  

Dino Sabatini has become known for tribalistic, poly-rhythmic techno that combines psychoactive sounds with bouncing, stepping beats. That this 2012 album got overshadowed a bit by the Voices From The Lake album was always a bit unfair as I've thought those albums are two sides of the same coin. They both explored the emotional quality that repetition and slow building music can have when used effectively. But whereas Dozzy & Neel aimed for an introspective, organic path, Sabatini went further down the rabbit hole into darker liminal grounds. This cut of his earlier 12" is prophetic of the sound he would develop. Sounding like something Pangaea might play in his recent sets full of 'bouncy' techno, it's a thrilling, heart racing journey from start to finish that would wreck any open minded crowd willing to completely immerse themselves.

 4. Iori - Lapis 3 (2011) Lapis  

Whereas Sabatini works with the ritualistic side of voodoo techno, Iori has always dealt at the psychedelic, mind expanding end. Often he deals in pure sound, exploring how the relationship between different timbrel qualities can create feelings of disassociation and mind expansion. All ranges of frequencies are perfectly in harmony. Techno often explores darkness in a cosmic and apocalyptic environment but this one feels like you're diving deep underwater to that place at the bottom of the ocean where sunlight doesn't even reach. It warbles, bubbles, pops, squeaks, wobbles, fizzes and bounces to create a feeling of suffocating floating. With an unexpectedly stepping beat, I'm reminded slightly of Shackleton's more aggressive tunes but influenced more by Tangerine Dream than Muslimgauze. It's also worth noting another tune on this release, Lapis 2 that has a similar feeling of drifting but with a straighter, four to the floor beat underneath.

3. Mike Parker - FWD (Donato Dozzy Mix) (2012) Subterranean Liquid  

What is the  nature of techno? What are it's intrinsic qualities that separate it from other forms of music?  I think that Donato Dozzy and Mike Parker has solved that question better than any essay or book could. This is the distilled essence of techno. When you strip everything back and you leave yourself with only the base structure of techno music, this is what you get. A kick and a sound. This tune is a pure and unadulterated response to meaning within music. Anyone who's ever heard it on a proper system knows the singular effect it can have. It can make a room sound like the air is breaking and thinning with a mastery over the timbrel quality of sound that both Dozzy and Parker have become famous for.

2. Cio D'or - Goldbrokat (2009) Die Faser, Pt. 1

Techno music has never been famous for heart on your sleeve emotional out pourings, even less for decelerations of romance. All this makes the 4th minute of this song even more spine tingling. The song starts off in traditional but accomplished fashion, with an eyes down, voodoo approach to techno that has become so associated with Prologue. After a few minutes the beat goes away and something wonderful happens. Pianos suddenly emerge from the darkness and wash over the song, completely altering the vibe of the tune and showing a level of emotional dexterity in a genre that can too often be cold and sterile. It's a similar trick that old jungle and hardcore tunes used by bringing in female vocals and cheesy pianos that rippled flutters of pleasure through blissed out crowds. Simon Reynolds postulated that the vocals in old hardcore tunes were love poems to ecstasy and that feeling of overwhelming happiness experienced on the drug. This song I think is an ode to that similar feeling but one that's not drug induced, but love induced. As anyone who's been madly in love and had it reciprocated, you'll know how physically overpowering it can be. A healthy, natural rush of serotonin. I don't know if Cio D'or had any of these feelings in mind but that this song has got me thinking about these things is indicative of the power that the second half of this song exudes. One of the true highlights of the past decade in techno music.

1. Voices From The Lake - S.T. (VFTL Rework) (2012) Voices From The Lake  

The song where the melody breaks.

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