VA: SM03- A Spezialmaterial Compilation

Compilations generally don't aspire to be groundbreaking; instead, they're typically summative documents, offering coherent overviews of a given genre or label. A comp can, however, have an impact that goes beyond mere listening pleasure to become an aural manifesto of sorts, as evidenced by, say, Mille Plateaux's Clicks'n'Cuts series. This new collection from Switzerland's Spezialmaterial, on the other hand, exudes no such grandiose, ambitious aura but is instead quite content to offer up sixteen tracks—eight originals and eight remixes—of lush electronica. This third compilation from the 3-year-old label focuses on a classic, old-school Warp-style of melodic IDM with Plaid and Arovane the most pronounced influences. Wisely, the label has included a small number of tracks that have a clear hip-hop flavour which gives the collection a welcome diversity. Different eras are encompassed: the “Plastique de Reve Rmx” track's vocoder and analogue synths place it within an earlier IDM era whereas tracks by Person and Solotemp with their strong hip-hop influences situate themselves squarely in the present day.

The first half is comprised of original tracks by artists like Intricate, Staubsauger, Person, Solotemp, and Softland, with the second half remixes by Plaid, Skanfrom, Phonem, and Team Doyobi among others. There's a healthy stylistic variety within the first half. Intricate starts things off with the Plaid-styled “Tinizong” and later returns with “Hund,” whose gentle Arovane melody is underlaid by a frenetic rhythm and cut-up voices. “7” by Staubsauger adopts a Suction Records Solvent/Skanfrom style, with a bit of Plaid sprinkled in for good measure. The latter's influence also emerges on “La Lune Noire” by Person where Plaid-style synths are conjoined to funky, squelchy beats. Hip-hop influences appear on “Deeproid Pre” by Person whose machine funk is coupled with soaring synths and buzzing percussion. Likewise, Solotemp's “Entry” pairs a massive hip-hop beat with floating synths. The two other originals are distinctive too. The oompah rhythm and accordion synths on “Petrushka” by Monoblock B + Nora Düster create an Eastern European feel, although it's weakened by needless clutter and weak vocals. With its piano, bass, Moroccan flute, and percussion, Softland's exotic “Seismo”' finishes the first half on a delicate, meditative note.

Some remixes hew closely to the originals while others drastically deviate. Skanfrom gives his Staubsauger remix the full electro Skanfrom treatment by adding his trademark old-school synths. The heavyweight beats in Chris Gladwin's and Alex Peverett's “Team Doyobis Boolean Plan” [sic] make it noisier, more intense and aggressive in comparison to the other pieces. Daze Dasen's “Plastique de Reve Rmx' is a complete makeover of “Petrushka”; Dasen converts it into an extended workout of glistening electronics and vocodered vocals, with an unusual shuffle beat in 6/8. Strangely, two of the star remixers offer unexpected results. While Plaid's style surfaces in the background melodies, Ed Handley's and Andy Turner's “Plaid Rmx” of Person's “La Lune Noire” sounds more like an Autechre remix in its deconstructed style of congealing, synapse-snapping synth treatments and stumbling beat patterns. And Elliot Perkins eschews his signature beat treatments on “Phonem Rmx”' which retains the meditative sound of the “Seismo” original. Perkins turns it into an ambient exercise with exotic African jungle animal sounds to end the recording on a becalmed note, albeit one lacking Perkins' distinctive sound.

SM03- A Spezialmaterial Compilation is not groundbreaking, but then again, it doesn't purport to be so. It aspires, rather, to showcase the Spezialmaterial label, draw attention to its roster and their forthcoming releases, and establish its credibility through the support and contributions of its highly regarded pool of remixers. It succeeds in satisfying all three goals, while also providing a solidly listenable collection of classic IDM that fans of Plaid, Gescom, and Autechre will enjoy.

September 2003