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Digging Deep: Neil Landstrumm

Digging Deep: Neil Landstrumm
David Beamson

Neil Landstrumm needs little introduction. A pivotal player in electronic music for the last 20 years, the Scottish native has graced numerous heavyweight labels including Tresor, Planet Mu, Music Man & Peacefrog with his techno-leaning productions, to name but a few.

On top of that, he’s put out five experimental albums and even an Art-Rock LP. These are signs of a highly adept producer not content with limiting his output to the club circuit, rather of a deeply creative man with a frenzy of ideas swirling around his head. And it’s this versatility and outright artfulness that has built Neil’s global fanbase, a clan that appreciates his sometimes eclectic but always immersive signature sound.

As a live artist, Neil’s travelled extensively across Europe and Asia and for a time was based out of New York. Now back in his Edinburgh studios, and in the lead up to his latest single on Zone Music, Neil has taken time out to dig through the depths of his record collection and select seven key cuts that have inspired his sound. From the digidub of Sly & Robbie, the acid house of Kraftwerk-indebted Spacemen 3 and proto-techno of Suicide and Throbbing Gristle, this one’s unmissable.

1. Suicide – Suicide LP, Red Star Records, 1977

So much has been written about this band and record its difficult to add more that is new to the discussion but I will highlight what hooks me into this record. I adore the fact it was made on hardly any equipment and remains so sonically powerfully and in its depth of vision to this day. I still struggle to find a genre for the record or a box to put it in even 40 years later.. I mean what is it exactly? Its just them doing their thing. It sets out a very techno sound in my opinion with the low subby fast kicks, cheap drums and basic synth stabs. It’s again the use of dub-style effects that set it apart from a lot of work giving it this unique space, unnerving darkness and the occasional euphoric light. The lyrics and unique vocal treatment by Vega also give it such a strong narrative and direction its impossible to ignore. The whole record has attitude in abundance. Frankie Teardrop is possibly one of the darkest tracks ever made i think. Absolutely timeless and hugely influential for a few generations already.

2. LFO – Frequencies LP, Warp Records, 1991

The whole album is a great listen the whole way though. Not many techno albums you can say that about really as its a difficult genre to make a cohesive, proper album. The album sets out a map for the UK techno sound to follow afterwards. Its extremely accomplished in its synth use with a huge variety of textures, clonks, baselines and bleeps throughout. It’s closely followed by Nightmares on Wax’s – A Word on Science both released on Warp of course. Leeds and Sheffield were the place to be for the set of influences they absorbed in the 80’s clearly. LFO explored many of the steely abstract sounds i grew to love and emulate mixed with hefty portions of subsonic bass which defined the Northern Rave Sound from Sheffield, Leeds and not forgetting Bradford (Unique 3). LFO’s first album is full of hope,positivity and science fiction influenced visions with discordant reminders of the grim reality of life in the early 90s for many in the UK. When I first heard LFO-LFO at a Happy Mondays gig in Glasgow aged 16 I was absolutely stunned by it. I had never really felt bass like that before and it imprinted on my psyche a blueprint of a sound i have repeated revisited. Its quite a simple track but the best ones always are. So identifiable in its signature chords and opening bleeps LFO still packs a mighty punch.

3. Sly and Robbie – A Dub Experience, Island Records, 1985

A friend I lived with had this on vinyl when we were students and lent it to me. It turned me onto the world of heavy dub and the sonic possibilities of heavy bass, echo effects, basic synth stabs and loops, skanky guitar and steely percussion. It ignited something in my head in a production sense and the way that instrumental ‘tracks’ could be so evocative of a mood, time or space.Sly and Robbie’s use of the RE-201 Space Echo is phenomenal in this album really adding depth and space. Everything sounds like its inside an oil drum…IN YOUR MIND! Its also perfectly timeless and illustrated to me how to think outside of current fashions and styles. The vocals are peppered throughout the album but just add orchestral type textures and harmonies to the bass and drum.  I listened to it again recently and it brought me back to those times both good and bad of those early sessions.

4. Altern8 – The Vertigo EP, Network Records , 1991

I vividly remember buying the silver limited copy of this 12″ in HMV as a 16 year old. I think I heard it on Normski’s Dance show on TV and made it a mission to go find a copy in Edinburgh the next day. I was hooked by the high energy of the music and the blatant nonsense with analogue synths on stage and Biohazard outfits. It just seemed like a lot of fun really compared to some of the miserable indie music that was about at the time. Its the quintessential sound of UK rave music for me. Made on Akai samplers and basic Roland technology in an afternoon and when the elements gel it creates something very, very special. It refernces the Northern Bass and Bleep sound that came after the acid house explosion but blends it with the new rave energy, humour and euphoria of the next phase in UK music. I’ve since got to know Mark Archer and its been a really interesting closing that loop and just gaining more insight into the ideas and feelings behind the music.

5. Throbbing Gristle – Hot On The Heels of Love (20 Jazz Funk Greats) – Industrial Records, 1979

Proto-techno from 1979. Similar to Suicide in being so ahead of its time. It still sounds like the future or some vision thats still to come to pass.Its main arpeggio is very uplifting and dreamlike but with a knife edge of fear running through it with the shifting stabs and harsh unexpected whip-like claps. The vocals are very sexual and breath a female seductive element into the piece. Disco elements within the drum pattern sequencing drive the whole track along its journey to its conclusion. Very influential in what came later in the 1980s with acid house and an entire genre in Germany.

6. DBX – Losing Control, Peacefrog Records, 1994

This came out in 1994, had a huge impact and changed the direction of techno in my opinion. Daniel Bell was instrumental in many important rave records before with Cybersonik and his previous DBX releases. The beauty of losing control is its minimal simplicity and the use of filtering and FX to create this very subtle build and hypnotic vocal groove.You can really hear and feel Dan Bell working the filter on the Pro_One and playing with the FX through the desk.  The production swelled from a subsonic , thundering bass to a full panning confusion with the filtering vocal which ends up being very triply indeed. Its a perfect record to mix with others and just sits with anything. A real DJ’s tool. Very analogue it is approach the ascending synth lines brought clubbers to their knees in the darkness. You could mix it with anything and it was probably the techno record of the year in my opinion. It also had this compressed, bleepy  funk sound  on the other tracks which was pretty unique at the time. To be unashamedly  honest I just assimilated DBX’s style into my own and made it harder , weirder and more swung for my own Peacefrog releases.. I loved the Chicago style of Dancemania, Trax and Relief records and Daniel Bell’s work just bridged the gap to Detroit.

7. Spacemen 3 – Big City (Everybody I  Know Can Be Found Here), Fire Records, 1990

I love the British misery and psychedelic sound that Spacemen 3 came up with during their many albums and eps. This track was inspired by exposure to the blossoming UK acid house scene and you can hear the trance enducingeuphoria and chemical hedonism through the track and vocals.It has such an inclusive feel welcoming everyone to the party to join in and enjoy the vibe. I suppose it marks the end of Spacemen 3 as a working band  but what a journey to end up here. It has elements of Kraftwerks Neon Lights which is a very poignant reference with its shimmering crisp riffs. It’s a good fusion of indie and acid house which many Manchester bands got credit for but I think Spacemen 3 absolutely nailed it with this track. Although I do love the Happy Mondays – Hallelujah (Club Mix ) by Andrew Weatherall which is more rave sounding with its orchestral elements, moody vocals and stabbing acidic baseline.

Neil’s Extreme Pleasure EP is out Jan 27th on Zone Music.