WARP FACTOR 20, MR. SULU! Warp Records

From Aphex Twin and Seefeel to Boards of Canada and
FlyLo, the British IDM label has remained a visionary and innovator for 20
years.

 

BY RON HART

 

Just recently I
was asked to provide a list of my picks for the 20 best albums of the ‘00s. No
easy task, to say the least. However, a rough draft of my list yielded no less
than five albums on the Warp Records
label. This observation signified not only my undue bias in regards to the
innovative Sheffield, England-based electronic label, but a testament to the
ground this imprint has broken over the course of not only this past decade,
but for the last twenty years they’ve been in business.

 

Since setting up shop
back in 1989 with a 500-run 12-inch of the Forgemasters’ single “Track With No
Name” financed by a grant from then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s
Enterprise Allowance program, Warp has changed the face of dance music,
catering to artists who are more interested in blowing minds than shaking
tailfeathers, as such label greats as Aphex Twin, Autechre, Prefuse 73 and
Squarepusher have proven time and again with each release. And Warp’s influence
on rock music, especially in these last ten years, has been nothing short of
ubiquitous. Needless to say, if not for Warp and its “Intelligent Dance Music
(IDM)” template, Radiohead would most likely be making records like Pablo Honey instead of Kid A.

 

In celebration
of the label’s 20th anniversary, Warp unveils its Warp20 series (www.warp.net), cumulating in a gorgeously
designed, elaborately priced box set containing five distinct sets of music
that review, remix and reconfigure the last twenty years of this groundbreaking
imprint. In these cash-strapped times, unless you are some kind of big shot
with great taste in tunes or a seriously hardcore Warp fanboy who has been
saving up his pennies for the last year, chances are the Warp20 box might be a
little out of the price range (although the exclusives, which include two
10-inch records featuring locked loops of classic Warp tracks and a stunning
exclusive 65-minute-long mix through the label’s history from UK mash-up master
Osymyso, make it worth the cost). However, for those of us who are working within a budget yet still
want in on the action, the folks at Warp were kind enough to make the prime
meat of this box available for separate purchase.

 

First up is Warp20: Chosen (7 stars out of 10), a
two-disc set featuring one disc selected democratically by Warp fans through a
survey on the label’s Web site launched specifically for its anniversary
(Warp20.net) with a second disc curated by Warp co-founder Steve Beckett.  Sadly, the first disc is totally safe and
features only the most obvious choices from the Warp catalog, which is not
saying much for the majority of fans who voted here. However, hearing Aphex
Twin’s “Windowlicker” rubbing up against Boards of Canada’s “Roygbiv” segueing
into Squarepusher’s “My Red Hot Car” blending into “Atlas” by Battles is
certainly a treat, albeit in a Now That’s
What I Call Warp Records
kind of way. The Beckett mix, on the other hand,
fares better at offering a more well-rounded overview of the label’s 20 year
history, digging deep for such rare nuggets as Black Dog Productions’ “Carceres
Ex Novum” (from back when they were known as Xeper) and “Spangle” from the recently
reunited futuristic London rock group Seefeel to balance out tracks from such
modern day acts as Broadcast, Flying Lotus and Grizzly Bear (more obscure
tracks from Disc One stars Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Battles and Autechre
also are featured in this mix as well).

 

Warp20: Recreated (8 stars) is a compilation of Warp
artists covering Warp artists. It’s kind of like Merge Records’ Score compilation from earlier this
year, only this two-disc set is exclusive to acts within the label roster. Though
normally collections such as these are spotty at best, the strict Warp on Warp
action yields better results than most, although not every cover is perfect by
any means. Some of the tracks sound more like straight remixes than actual
covers, such as Autechre’s version of LFO’s “What Is House?” or Chris Clark’s
take on “So Malleable” by English youngblood Milanese (who also happens to be
Clark’s next door neighbor). However, such shortfalls are far outweighed by the
inventive revisions presented here. The way both Mira Calix and Bibio bring
about a whole new sense of organic warmth to the music of Boards of Canada is astonishing;
under Calix and collaborator Oliver Coates, “In A Beautiful Place Out In The
Country” is transformed into a pastoral meditation that blurs the line between
electronic composition and field recording, while Bibio’s spin on “Kaini
Industries” replicates the sounds of the original with acoustic guitar and
piano. Aphex Twin also gets a pair of handsome makeovers as well in Born
Ruffians’ killer reworking of “Milkman/To Cure A Weakling Child” and Leila’s
stark, solo piano interpretation of “Vordhosbn” from Mr. James’ 2001
magnum opus Drukqs. Other highlights
here include Australia’s
Pivot upgrading Grizzly Bear’s “Colorado” and
Seefeel’s unique deconstruction of Maximo
Park’s “Acrobat”, not to
mention Nightmares of Wax’s downright awesome breakdown of the deep Warp
platter “Hey! Hey! Can You Relate?” by DJ Mink, tacked on at the end of disc 2
as a hidden track.

 

The real
treasure chest of this whole Warp20 series, however, is the Unheard  (9 stars) disc, which contains rare and
previously unreleased tracks from Flying Lotus, Plaid, Boards of Canada,
Elecktroids, Nightmares on Wax, Autechre and Seefeel, all of which could have
easily been included on any of these acts’ respective albums. Especially the
FlyLo, “Tronix”, whose soulful futurism offers just a tiny taste of what to
expect from Alice Coltrane’s grandnephew for his forthcoming third full-length
in 2010. Everything this kid touches just turns to fresh, let me tell you. Any
fan of Warp’s old Artificial Intelligence comps will eat this one alive, for sure.

 

One major disappointment
in the midst of this whole Warp20 phenomenon is the conspicuous absence of
Prefuse 73 in all of this action. While Guillermo Scott Herren’s latest side
project and collaboration with Hella drummer Zach Hill, Diamond Watch Wrists,
appears on Recreated via a cover of
Pivot’s “Fool In Rain”, there is not a blip or a beep from his primary gig,
which, for argument’s sake, is one of the best acts on the Warp roster ever. And
given the fact that a new Prefuse album just dropped on the label earlier this
year, it’s mighty odd to see the Prefuse name nowhere on any of these
compilations. Not sure who dropped the ball in that regard. But nevertheless, despite
that one questionable hiccup, Warp Records has done an otherwise stellar job in
celebrating 20 years of keeping dance music intelligent with the Warp20 collection.

 

Download These Tracks: Chosen: Aphex Twin “Windowlicker”, Boards of Canada “Roygbiv”, Battles “Race : Out”,
Squarepusher/AFX “Freeman Hardy & Willis Acid”; Recreated: Born Ruffians “Milkman/To Cure A Weakling Child”, Mira
Calix with Oliver Coates “In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country”, Pivot
“Colorado”, Seefeel “Acrobat”; Unheard: Boards of Canada “Seven Forty Seven”, Flying Lotus “Tronix”, Nightmares on Wax
“Biofeedback Dub”, Seefeel “As Link”

 

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