When you think about electronic music in Glasgow, you think of Hudson Mohawke or Sub Club – titans in their respective fields who have gone on to become ambassadors for the city’s music scene. The industry’s gaze has rested squarely on Glasgow since the rise of the LuckyMe and Numbers collectives, a gaze which seeks (and struggles) to identify the common thread between the city’s biggest musical exports.
But an undercurrent of talent in Glasgow remains untapped by this gaze, perhaps operating on too small a scale to command international attention (or a Yeezy co-sign). Sometimes the people putting in the most work receive little to no recognition, and are rendered obsolete in the grand scheme of things. The city would not be such a creatively fruitful place were it not for the good-natured ‘come to this afterparty’ or ‘we should make a track together’ exchanges that continue to bring so many brilliant minds together. Lauren Martin recently did a great job celebrating this tradition and the individuals doing things, as she put it, ‘in the name of a damn good time’, for Dummy’s Glasgow Spotlight series. Certain venues and communities nurture fresh talent and provide breeding grounds for DIY collaborative efforts: Subcity Radio, Cry Parrot, Analogue Anonymous. Even a visit to Rubadub can become more than just an ordinary record-shopping trip thanks to the approachable and knowledgeable staff.
“The Health of the Oceans” compilation tape is the product of one such collaboration, originally offered as a memento to guests of Gris Gala, a one-off night of live music held in Stereo‘s basement. The tape is a physical embodiment of all that makes Glasgow’s underground such a humbling environment – spontaneity, attention to detail and a willingness to put audience experience first. The tape is the baby of Wavy Graves (Josh Hill’s Subcity Radio venture), One Mile High (Aaron McLaughlin’s publishing outlet) and Leaving Records. Leaving Records is, of course, the prolific Californian label which has released music from singer-songwriter Julia Holter and Ras G, a luminary of the LA beat scene.
Stream: Various Artists – Health of the Oceans
Leaving Records is co-owned by Matthewdavid, whose “gapandbeat_rough1” is first up on side A. It’s a densely textured track; layers of low-end bass vie for centre stage with the bubbling synth lick. In his first-ever interview Matthewdavid said his biggest influences were “plants, wind, water and the sun”. This certainly rings true of “gapandbeat_rough1”; although it shudders and grinds with mechanical precision, there’s an overarching organic quality to it. He sees his juxtaposition of the natural and the not-so-natural right through to the end, when the song fades out in a commotion of pneumatic whirs and cricket chirrups. Matthewdavid’s cut might not deviate from his usual formula but Best Available Technology‘s “Vulture“, which follows, indulges a subtler and more restrained side of the Portland producer’s artistry. The track bears few similarities to the warped techno sludge of “Sony HiFi Side B City Jitters“, available for free on Opal Tapes‘ recent “Cold Holiday” compilation. No, with its muffled pads and feedback that whines forlornly, “Vulture” has more in common with the softer sketches found on his “Excavated Tapes 1992-1999, Vol. 1“.
The first Glaswegian contribution comes from Dam Mantle, who teams up with Baker for “Dig the Fourth“. On it, a free-wheeling brass section flutters triumphantly over a whimsical female vocal, South American percussion and plodding double bass. The track is a departure from Dam Mantle’s previous work, being less dancefloor-oriented than his 2012 LP “Brothers Fowl” and more indicative of his new jazz inclinations. Further in, contributions from Tomutonttu and DIVA ramp up the intensity. The Finnish Tomutonttu, who runs the Vauva label, abandons any concept of melody for his “Nahinahin Ranta“. It’s a cluttered collage of sound, arrhythmic to the point that the tumult becomes measured, and artfully so. DIVA’s “Star Cabin” closes side A with a string of psychedelic arpeggios. Its sluggishness is suffocating: the drums thud like they’re buried under six feet of dirt. DIVA is a performance artist and you can visualise the disconcerting effect this murky track would have in a live setting. LEVERT_PCOLA‘s “rend2quik” opens side B and acts as a gentle palette cleanser following side A’s psychotic climax. We struggled to find out much about the artist but the track is a soothing 80-second screwed-up boogie affair.
The tape’s finest moment comes from the three-track run on side B of local musicians: Golden Teacher, Dick 50 and Bactarian. Golden Teacher is a supergroup of sorts composed of members from Ultimate Thrush, Silk Cut and Lovers’ Rights – see what we meant about Glasgow’s keen collaborative spirit? Their contribution is taken from their first-ever recording session at Green Door Studios, when they were known as Golden T-shirt. “‘why did you enter the…’“‘s slimy take on funk is positively Drexciyan, and there’s some foreshadowing of the sound that would emerge on the group’s later EPs for Optimo Music. The unruly synth line of Dick 50’s “God’s First Salon” fizzes with menace, abandoning the good-natured swing of the Golden Teacher track. It sounds like a swarm of angry bees congregating over a relentless kick. The onslaught soon paves way for a cacophony of instrumental solos, each as unpredictable as the last – bongos, a triangle, a steel pan – before submerging under a wall of frantic guitar screech. Bactarian’s “Classics” is a pure nosebleed techno death march. Its synth whistles like a space shuttle beam while the tempo pogos from fast to slow like a factory line gone awry.
The last half of side B distances itself from Glasgow, closing with offerings from LA (Lucky Dragon‘s “ooga booga bongo music“), Denmark (Jakob, Mads & Mathias‘ “Woodface“), Belgium and London. Dynooo‘s “CR X” is the most cinematic track on the tape, its graceful build disrupted by a cathartic crash. The cycle becomes captivating, but just when you get comfy it transitions into Felicita‘s “I’m Trying To Find You“. Felicita’s use of suspense and space is devastating: “I’m Trying To Find You” hovers precariously, constantly threatening to descend into utter chaos. A guitar is strummed tautly amidst rapid machine-gun fire and ghostly vocals – it’s a skeletal reconstruction of grime set in a joyless dystopia.
It may only be forty-five minutes long, but “The Health of the Oceans” compilation packs in a hell of a lot of ideas in such a short space of time. It’s not an easy listen – it’s jarring, abrasive, and downright alienating at times – but it’s rewarding. With so many different pockets of experimental electronic music showcased, you’d have to be really fussy not to hear something you liked. But it’s those who can appreciate the tape as a whole that will really benefit, from the moments of sun-kissed ambience to the groggy impressions of techno. For the tape is proof against unfounded claims that Glasgow’s scene has gone stale – if you think what the city has to offer peaked with Rustie’s “Glass Swords” (and the series of watered-down copycats that followed), you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Start with this tape.
“The Health of the Oceans” tape is available for free download from the One Mile High store.