The new house (and techno and acid and downtempo and more) sound from Dresden.
|In the internet age information comes thick and fast. You simply can’t keep up, and you can’t rightfully claim ignorance. It’s right there in front of you as long as you’re willing to look. It wasn’t always this way of course. Certain cities—for a long time—had advantages over others. Better newspapers. Better radio stations. Better access to information.
Dresden was not one of these cities. After suffering a massive bombing campaign by the Allied forces in World War II, it was in the process of slowly being rebuilt by the time that it became one of East Germany’s major cities. Whether intended or unintended, it also became one of the easiest for East German authorities to control, as the city was largely positioned neatly in a valley. Radio and TV signals being transmitted into Leipzig? No problem. It’s no coincidence that the city was the home to some of the most important demonstrations of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Dresden? They have a name for it in German: Tal der Ahnunglosen. Valley of the clueless.
Nowadays, though, it’s more apt to call it an Uncanny Valley. Over the course of four releases, the Dresden-based label of the same name has been offering up various artists compilations that defy easy categorization. House, techno, downtempo, acid. It’s all been part of the sound of Uncanny Valley. And, in talking to just some of the countless people involved with the label, it seems to be the tip of the iceberg.
Most (but still not all) of the the Uncanny Valley crew.
Visit Uncanny Valley’s website and you’ll get the picture. For a label only four releases in, the list of artists is voluminous. That’s by design. “We had always a big electronic music scene [in Dresden], but everyone had their own small business,” says Break SL. “Credit00 and the Idealfun guys did the Robodance Parties (electro), Stefan (Sandrow M) did parties with his Deocure Crew. The Moroders had their own nite (disco), some friends of mine and I had a night called “We Like…” (house & jakbeat), High Finesse did their Drum & Bass nights. [And that's] just to name a few.”
Nowadays, they’re all mixed together, thanks to Uncanny Valley. As Albrecht Wassersleben tells it, “Jacob [Korn] and I felt once the need for a sort of community in Dresden combining all the different people for doing music projects, art and performances… We once sat together building up a plan [that was clearly] too big to handle and too big to fulfill by ourselves. [So we showed it] to Conrad and he was [also] really skeptical about it, because for him it should only be a thing that grows slow to get steady. [But] some months later we were asked to play at Nachtdigital [a festival outside of Dresden held at Bungalowdorf holiday camp]. Conrad, Philipp (who DJs along with Conrad as The Moroders) and I were standing in front of Berghain in Berlin waiting to get in to see Moodymann play, and we talked the whole time about the idea of setting up a label and presenting it at the festival.”
Working towards the goal of putting together the imprint before the festival date, the crew called up everyone they could think of in Dresden. Jacob Korn, Break SL, Cuthead, Thomas Fröhlich. Anyone and everyone involved in making electronic music in the city. As Fröhlich remembers it, “We had a meeting in the basement of the [local venue] Altes Wettbüro. When we heard the sentence “WE want to found a label!”, it was love at first sight.” As for the name, everybody there wrote down a name on a piece of paper. There were nearly four meetings before it became official, but Jacob Korn’s first idea won out: Uncanny Valley. “Fortunately the records were ready just in time at the festival weekend,” Wassersleben confirms.
Search on SoundCloud and you can find a few of the sets from Uncanny Valley crew members at Nachtdigital. You’ll also begin to hear a trend. They’re completely different affairs, only joined together by an openness of taste. This wide-ranging attitude is helped in many ways by how small the scene is in Dresden. There’s one record store that everyone unfailingly namechecks: Fat Fenders. There’s also Backstock Records, which closed down a few years ago. Spunky—who worked at that store and is one-half of DJing duo Hombres Discos with Tiny—is a major part of why each scene is so strong in its musical base acknowledges Break SL, “Spunky’s former record store Backstock Records and Fat Fenders [have built] a strong basement for the whole city scene, a place for communication and musical education. If you really want to know what the Dresden Sound is, go to Fat Fenders and spent an afternoon there.” Sneaker, a producer who made his Uncanny Valley debut on the label’s fourth release, agrees: “Tiny brought [together] styles in his doings since ever. For a lot of people he IS the sound of Dresden.”
Despite the massive respect afforded to Tiny and Spunky, who closed the label’s recent showcase at Panorama Bar without having a record to their name on the imprint, much of the attention has gone to two of the names that played earlier that night: Jacob Korn and Break SL. Releases on labels such as Dolly and Philpot has helped that along. So has the music. Korn is developing a uniquely modern and melodic deep house sound, while Break SL has teamed up with Sandrow M. to form C-Beams, a collaboration that sees SL DJing and Sandrow playing keyboard when they perform live together.
It’s an ambitious pairing, especially considering Sandrow’s improvisational role. I noticed certain dots on records while C-Beams played. Break SL mentioned that “Before our gigs we practice a little bit, we listen and discuss new records and make some improvisations over them. But club situations are too spontaneous to make something like a concept from the beginning to the end. The dots [you saw] on the records mark things like cue-points, harmony, speed changes and sometimes additional information on some advanced or wonky records.”
Korn was the star of the night at Panorama Bar, though, releasing the tension built by C-Beams’ low-key opening set in a masterful one hour live performance that spanned tempos and sounds more easily than you’d expect. He’ll helm the debut single artist EP on the label this summer, reportedly the first of many. According to Conrad Kaden, this was a conscious decision: “We wanted to introduce producers to a wider public. Now that we have introduced quite a lot of new faces, we’re [going to] start to give them artist EPs with the occasional various artist EP thrown in for good measure. There are still more upcoming producers to be discovered.”
Conrad, Albrecht and Carl: The trio behind the everyday operations of Uncanny Valley.
It would seem so. When Albrecht Wassersleben describes how the various artist EPs were compiled, it sounds like an inspiring process of feedback and collaboration. “For every compilation we called up everyone who is involved in the demo dropbox folder and we sat together (like 15-20 people) and listened to everything which was contributed into it and talked about the music we were listening to.” With so many people involved, it’s also made for some laudably diverse releases. Their most recent effort, for instance, has 12 minutes of punishing electro from Sneaker, frenetic acid from CVBox and queasy Stott-esque downtempo from Break SL’s brother Stefan Lohse.
Where all of this stuff gets an airing in Dresden itself is the only source of disappointment that you hear from the people surrounding Uncanny Valley. While they throw parties in the three level Sektor Evolution, it’s still a bit too big. Altes Wettbüro, meanwhile, is a bit too small—and is housed in the Neustadt area, which has strict regulations on how long a party can last (and how loud it can be). Like Fat Fenders, there is a venue that is constantly namechecked by DJs/producers from Dresden—Galerie Disko—but it closed in 2009. “The crew that was running the club (High Finesse) are looking for a new location,” says Conrad Kaden. “For now we stick with Sektor Evolution which is also a great location, especially if you throw parties with various styles of music since you can have the three floors. We work together with the local dubstep crew Sub Sickness and High Finesse. But, yes, there is a lack of a decent medium sized location [right now].” Credit 00 puts it more bluntly: “I miss Galerie Disko.”
Despite their minor local frustrations, people from outside Dresden are nonetheless finally looking in. On Uncanny Valley’s second release, Jacob Korn teamed up with Kelli Hand for a Dresden/Detroit collab. “Dance Away” featured Hand shouting out to all the usual Detroit names you’ve heard before. Then she moved on to names from Dresden. “Thomas Fröhlich. The Moroders. Albrecht W. Cuthead. Sandrow M.” There were even some names that haven’t released on the label yet at all. Rest assured, we’ll likely be hearing from them soon.
Uncanny Valley Mix
This month’s label showcase is from Uncanny Valley act C-Beams, AKA Break SL and Sandrow Mitzschke. The duo has put together a collection of special edits and overdubbed some new parts, so it’s worth taking this one for a spin even if you know these tracks by heart.
Download: RA Label of the Month 1106 Mix: Uncanny Valley