Token Records – Aphelion LP [TOKEN]
Token Records have had an outstanding year so far. With coveted appearances at venues like Tresor, Corsica Studios, Concrete, Trouw and the Boiler Room, and festivals including Dimensions and FreeRotation, the label seems to be continuing its perpetual rise as one of the more serious contingencies in the scene.
Two main proponents of the label have been ø [Phase] and Inigo Kennedy, who have spearheaded Token’s growth with their own highly individualised styles, and are quickly becoming household names within the Techno fraternity. However, the label has also been the occasional home of other familiar faces, like Xhin, Rødhåd, Oscar Mulero, and Go Hiyama, for example. From ø [Phase]’s menacing square-waves and chest-rattling kick drums, to Kennedy’s dark, melancholic and often bitter-sweet techno ballads, Token have found a unique sound that is finding a global audience.
It seems fitting that the imprint celebrates a cornerstone year with an impressive compilation that showcases the label’s talent pool. The nine-track album draws together an all-star lineup, featuring Techno heavyweights Karenn, Rødhåd, Inigo Kennedy, ø [Phase], Lucy, Surgeon, James Ruskin, Ctrls, and Planetary Assault Systems (aka Luke Slater). Quite the list indeed.
The album is the second compilation to appear on the label and is decidedly more focussed and refined than 2013’s inaugural ‘Token Introspective’; and where Ashley Burchett aka ø [Phase] contributes almost a third of the twenty-one tracks on the former album, on ‘Aphelion’ there are just nine tracks, each one from a different artist. Compilations are an interesting way of mapping a label’s progression, and the decisions and outcomes of creating a compilation are revealing of a label’s direction in sound and ability for self-reflection.
ø [Phase] opens the album with his distinct brand of heavy-duty techno. ‘Insectoid’ is both at once militant and commanding, its rotating analogue motif quietly threatening. We get a flavour of the looping motif briefly as a sort of prelude, though it quickly disappears to make way for the emphatic beat of the drum. The opening synth loop returns to join the kick drum, etching into the static texture created by saturated noise. The rhythmic pulse of the shakers rattle like cicadas in the beating heat. A secondary acid figure joins on the four bar cycle, as the kick drum continues to carry things forward.
Lucy’s offering is notably more experimental than ‘Insectoid’ and the rest of the other tracks on the album, though what else can we expect from the man behind Stroboscopic Artefacts? ‘Sana Sana Sana Cura Cura Cura’ is simultaneously playful and sinister, in quite an unsettling sort of way. The dissonant melodic spatterings spill carelessly across the psychological paraphernalia, while accompanying spectres dance intoxicatedly around the steady kick drum. Synth lines bleep in asphyxiation, swaying frenetically together in a surprisingly coherent cacophony. The track takes pleasure in deconstruction and dissent, and this is one quality that makes Lucy’s music so unpredictable and entertaining. While there is something mildly Punk about Lucy’s approach, he is also a great story-teller and the narratives in his tracks make them engaging and thoughtful; it’s hugely effective and balances out the EP nicely. Perhaps one of the more unassuming tracks on the album, it’s also becoming one of the most likeable. This one grows on the ears with every listen.
The third track on the compilation comes from Danish producer Ctrls. Having released exclusively on Token, it seems that the label is nurturing his sound as he continues to make the sizeable leap from Drum & Bass. Finding solace in riotous, stripped back 4×4, it looks as though ‘X.Y’ could be his most accomplished production yet. Again, a reductionist approach to texture and percussion sees a hollow kick centred between alternating hits, doubled by a skipping synth loop. The track builds gradually and methodically, taking a decidedly more electronica sound-world. Some good ideas here.
Following right behind is an entry from man of the hour, Rødhåd. The Dystopian label head has also had a stormer of a year, billing pretty much every high profile techno event on the calendar as part of an extensive touring schedule. ‘Haumea’ appeared on Token as a three-track 12″ that was released just over two months ago, and included a ø [Phase] mix. The track leans toward the wonkier side of not only Token, but the Klockworks sound-world too. Similar to Slater’s ‘808 Track’ and ‘Sana Sana Sana Cura Cura Cura’, the track expresses an unshakeable angst. The bass drum is supported by a minimal bass lead while a frenetic synth motif bleeps over the top, nervously snatching at shadows. The syncopated cymbals are jarring, almost offensive, as an abrasive and metallic percussion section forms the bulk of the texture.
Techno stalwart Luke Slater alias Planetary Assault Systems brings to the table his classic take on analogue Techno. The track makes no effort to rush into things, layering up gradually as it intensifies. An ambling drum loop begins the piece, simple and understated. A three minute introduction prepares the stage for discordant sirens to blare into the texture. Obviously here Slater makes a visible (audible) reference to the track’s inspiration: the timeless 808; perfectly crafted sounds align to create what emerges to be quite the groove. Bordering on the line of irritating, the pitch-shifted sirens glide across the frequency spectrum, interplaying with the rhythmic features of the drum loop. They rise incrementally, gripping the mix tighter while continuing their interplay of pitch-modulated counter-point. Another little wildcard, ‘808 Track’ is an opportunity for something lighter before we enter that latter half of the compilation.
James Ruskin makes a worthy appearance on the compilation with his offering ‘No Trace’. The opening figure sets the mood, utilising a classic vernacular of vintage German acid for something really groovy. Ruskin twists and contorts the acidic motif over the steady drum beat. Quivering hat lines litter the mix more as textural components as opposed to rhythmic ones, their stereo imaging opening up the mix, allowing room for the kick and snare to travel down the middle. The track really comes into its own after the halfway mark with a much needed string texture, supporting the harmony while balancing out the fairly abrupt and lumbering percussion.
Things begin to heat up with Surgeon’s wonderful ‘Fixed Action Pattern’. Another release on the Token discography that dropped at the tail end of Summer, Anthony Child‘s debut on the label is a much welcomed arrival. You can hear Token’s inflections on his own sound in this EP, pulsing synth leads are very much in line with Inigo Kennedy’s melodic syntax, while a well constructed low end creates the punch on demand, for those peak time sessions. The bpm is perfect for that relentless, driving push, without having to be tear-out 135+. The arrangement is calculated and well-organised, and will simultaneously lift those drifting away and satiate those who are already up there.
Following Inigo Kennedy’s hugely impressive ‘Vaudeville’ LP earlier this year, people are gradually beginning to wake up to his immediately identifiable sound. Operating since the early 90s, Kennedy’s benevolent partnership with Token has propelled not only his own career but has also been a driving force in disseminating the Token message, as a torchbearer for the label. ‘Arcing’ is Kennedy in his element. Gritty, noisy drum loops mesh together to create a dense and oppressive texture, full of attitude and momentum. The main synth hook creeps in, melodic material that we have been patiently waiting for; here the drums still take precedent as the synth continues its own internal dialogue, building strength with every passing exchange. The first breakdown features the solo synth motif, its probing interjections reaching out capaciously into the mix. The drum re-entry crashes back into the mix, remorseless, fatal. Throughout the track the hook rises to match the unrelenting drum sequence, where the reiterated cadence amplifies our suspenseful uncertainty. This is quite possibly the best track on the compilation and will take dance-floors by storm every time.
Closing the album we have the infamous British Techno powerhouse Karenn. Consisting of Blawan and Pariah, the two have transformed the landscape of Techno over recent years through their own respective careers, yet still continue to raise the bar through their hardware oriented double-act. The duo present something that is just, quite frankly, terrifying. ‘Pace Yourself’ utilises Token’s macabre sound palate, and then amps that up ten times. Adjectives like ‘ominous’ don’t really do it justice here. The track opens with a haunting soundscape, a murky bass lead pulsates somewhere in the depths below, while soft electronic signals bleep idly in the background. The pair don’t wait around for long, the kick drops in at forty-five seconds, bolstered by additional low end shortly after. A distorted synth line skitters about the bleak landscape, tumbling forward as it trips over the decaying, skeletal debris and dystopian wreckage. The kick here is onerous, uncompromising; Death’s knock can be found in its dry, weighty thud, stomping forward with the resolve of the marching dead. Not for the faint hearted.
The emergence of Token Records is perhaps a signal to the world that Belgium still has something to offer. The label is putting the country back on the map after a twenty year hiatus from the international spotlight, and doesn’t seem to be far behind Paris and France with regard to the rapid growth of their dance music scenes. It would not be crazy to suggest that Belgium could become a formidable entity as a global outlet for techno within the next decade or so.
The efficacy of this compilation and indeed Token’s recent discography was further validated during Inigo Kennedy’s recent appearance at Corsica Studios. The majority of the tracks made it into his set, as well as selections from ‘Vaudeville’ and other favourites on the label; they worked seamlessly together. Their value as club-ready selections highlights Token’s relevance on the dance-floor today, and we can expect to be seeing a lot more from the label in 2015.