The Balkan Recordings label has carved a niche name for itself in the techno and house scenes over the last few years via its focus on the acidic ends of those various spectrums, with a particular interest on having those sounds pressed to vinyl. Mountain Electrics departs from these specific ideas in a few ways, while remaining clearly linked to the label’s modus operandi. Firstly, this is no 12 minute per side missive with a focus on a particular track or two but, rather, a sprawling monster of a compilation, weighing in at just over two hours in length. As is commonly available in the Web2.0 era, the release is also a download only prospect. And, as is to be expected from this kind of enterprise, there are a wide variety of sounds across the journey.
A few heavyweights turn up within the zeroes and ones – Luke Vibert turns out a piece titled ‘Basslide’ which starts out in deep house territory but progresses with too much personality to be bound by that genre’s restrictions. The glissandi of the title provide plenty of movement beneath the simple rhythm loops, while acid bubbles threaten as the track builds, without ever taking over and providing a release to the building tension. Paul Mac (the British version, not the Australian one of Itch-E & Scratch-E fame!) also pops up with ‘Baby Steps’, a track that is driving in its minimalism and nods to dark, dirty techno. Its four and a bit minutes pulse away in distorted, yet melodic, glory, making for great listening.
Lesser known names (to me, at least) also make significant contributions. Symmetry offers up acid baubles over a slow, heavy electro groove to change the pace from much of the surrounding 4/4 while Posthuman messes with rhythmic conventions, pitting heavily swung grooves against straight rhythms to mind-bending effect in one of the compilation’s stand-out tracks, ‘Mezzotint’. Anahata offers up a near ambient piece, though its busyness belies its beatlessness to give it an engaging quality, rather than one that lets it drift by.
What the compilation comes off as, over its meandering course, is a kind of snapshot of some of the historic techno undergrounds of the last 30-odd years. Nothing on it really approaches the post-dubstep shells of much contemporary European underground electronica, nor the tape-hiss-soaked tributes of the reclaimed house of their American counterparts. A thin line is successfully trod, however. None of this music sounds overtly retro – possibly because none of it embraces its parent genres from the point of view of the outsider, who can only focus on the genre markers rather than the spirit of adventure originally found (or, quite possibly, because I’m just getting old!). So, while Room 13, Mark Broom and Shinra offer up a decidedly late-’80s acid core to the compilation through its middle, they never succumb to the horrors of piano or vocal samples or the like – clichés which originally propelled acid-house towards the mainstream. Likewise, Mark Archer’s proto-rave and Myth!’s proto-trance remain distinctly on the right side of invention rather than genre-marker pastiche. The collection, therefore, holds together quite well, with everything holding its own in terms of quality.
I’ve been keen to discuss the compilation on its musical merits for one distinct reason. The compilation has actually been released as a pay-what-you-like download by the label, with the artists donating their services, in order to raise funds through Community Action Nepal for relief work in the recently earthquake devastated Nepal. ‘Worthy’ compilations are regularly released, the proceeds always appreciated but the music often secondary. Mountain Electrics, however, stands on its own as a worthwhile musical experience. Despite its daunting length, it’s worth giving it the time it deserves on its musical terms, let alone its humanitarian ones.