Mike Mangino and Chris Shepard formed Smersh in a New Jersey basement in 1981 and went on to release more than 40 cassette only releases over the ensuing years until their dissolution in 1993 (many of them released on their own Atlas King label), based on improvised studio jams the duo held every Monday night. Uninterested in traditional notions of songwriting or live performance, Smersh never played or recorded the same track more than once, yet they managed to gain a cult fanbase internationally as their cassettes were traded by fans around the world. Two years on from Dark Entries’ preceding retrospective compilation ‘Super Heavy Solid Waste’, this latest 12” EP ‘Sideways’ comes lifted from a cassette originally titled ‘100’, referring to a 100 minute long jam session that the duo recorded to tape in 1989.
While a lot of Smersh’s earlier material saw them aligned with industrial and New Beat / EBM sounds, in its original 18 minute long mix form ‘Sideways’ sits a lot closer to the driving acid techno that was emerging from Detroit and Chicago around that same time. While a lot of the essential ingredients being deployed here are extremely familiar by now, TB-303, TR-606 and Arp 2600 – what really impresses here is the psychedelic effect Smersh manage to wring out of the constantly shifting layers of drum machines and arpeggiated synths by constantly messing with the pitch and throwing the electronics through filtering treatments. By the end of the track there’s a sense that things have gone completely full circle as the metallic-sounding synth arpeggios that form the spiky backbone of the track get squished into bassy fuzz and eerie robotic sequences worm their way into the foreground.
If the aforementioned original mix of ‘Sideways’ sounds very much of its time, Tadd Mullinix takes the retro baton and runs with it on his remix under his JTC alias, pushing things further out into 808 State-esque ravey hardcore as clattering breakbeats rattle against airy melodic pads, acid squiggles and dubbed-out bleeps. Elsewhere, his second remix as Charles Manier offers up the dark goth-y electro side of the equation as jagged post-punk guitars and chanted vocals bounce off a backdrop of robotic bass arpeggios and stiff industrial rhythms, and indeed it just edges out slightly as my favourite track here, suggesting the Sisters Of Mercy meets Model 500 at points.