VA: hub Opus Tokyo

Japanese label Op.disc has been keeping a rather low profile of late but now storms back with hub Opus Tokyo, a double-CD compilation bearing ample samplings of its distinctive techno. Yes, the label's style is in one sense minimal—many cuts are stripped-back to skeletal beat structures and bass lines, and fragments of melodies, electronic noises, and samples—yet the label's artists still manage to spin endlessly inventive and captivating variations on the theme. Some of the contributors—Radiq, Dublee, Ditch, Aoki Takamasa, Takuya Morita, Ryo Murakami, and Dartriix, for example—have released previously on the label while others are newcomers. Intensifying the groove factor, some of the twenty-one tracks (most in the seven-minute range) sprinkle jazz spice over strutting minimal grooves, and dress up the material with percussive touches, claps, synths, electric piano noodling, and voice samples and edits.

Representative of the style, Takuya Morita's “Come to Sweeten” presents a remarkably engrossing fusion of jazz and minimal tech-house, all of it sweetened with a continual parade of drum accents, synth flourishes, and samples. Voice fragments add colour to the funky, bass-prodded bump of Den's “Re: gala,” and clangorous snare cracks and tumbling percussion noises give Keisuke Kondo's “Novel” added kick. A bright female voice coos “love” amidst ringing cymbals and a pulsating groove in eater's snappy “Envy,” while voice samples dominate Ryo Murakami's “Dublin”—one resignedly intoning, “There'll always be conflict”—lending the track a political edge rare for this largely apolitical genre.

Akiko Kiyama's “Pedopenna” jumpstarts disc two on a heavier note by draping echoing drum cannonades and even electric guitar over its pounding kick drum. An arresting model of sound design and programming, Riow Arai's “amfm” punctuates its hammering pulse with what sounds like processed piano stabs resonating between the two channels. Disc two in particular shows that Op.disc's got a few tricks up its sleeve: Bringing fire to the comp's generally understated vibe, Taeji Sawai's maximal electro-raver “Sane Roar Steam Shine” stomps and rages like a rhino in heat, and electric guitar melodies sing plaintively amidst clanks, sword sharpening, and dungeon noises in Ditch's house strutter “Trust Me.” In addition, Wavvy's “Glassy” stands alertly at attention with Spanish guitar strums draped across rubbery bass lines and a driving house pulse, and So Inagawa's fresh “de facto” spreads warm Rhodes chords across a supple deep house funk pulse. Aerodynamic sparklers by Karafuto, Dublee, and Aoki Takamasa round out the collection, while Dartriix's “When is the new film supposed to come out?” closes out the release with an oddly subdued mix of keyboard burble and acoustic drum patterning.

hub Opus Tokyo isn't the label's first compilation—that honour goes to Hub Solo & Collabo 2004-2005— but it's obviously the most up-to-date, and its mix of established Op.disc names and new recruits finds the label in vital and healthy form.

July 2009