Switched On – VLSI live @ The Marquis – BUNKR & Echaskech

VLSI @ The Marquis, Dalston

by Ben Hogwood

If atmospheric electronic music is your thing, the VLSI label have it in abundance – as they demonstrated in the dark recesses of the newly refurbished space downstairs in The Marquis on Dalston High Street.

The label is run by Dom Hoare and Andy Gillham, who together are Echaskech. They positioned themselves mid-evening in a packed schedule, giving a superb set of concrete-heavy beats, fulsome bass and impressive widescreen vistas, creating urban panoramas under moody skies. The music of the duo (below) has aged with impressive surety since their arrival nearly 20 years ago, complementing their descriptive music with sharply voiced keyboards and some intricate and brilliantly realised rhythm tracks.

BUNKR – Brighton’s James Dean – is an excellent addition to the VLSI roster, and his headline set was notable for its creators energy and passion at the controls. As with Echaskech, he makes descriptive music of real substance, and if anything his viewpoint has a wider perspective. He does this through spacey keyboards and sonorous melodic lines, while the beats were reassuringly solid once again. Dean’s live tweaking served up a treat to remind us how good his two albums for the label – The Initiation Well and Graveyard Orbit – really are. The evening at the Marquis was ideally paced, punctuated by involving and stimulating DJ sets from just b & Rossscco, alternating deep breakdowns with bigger, rolling beats.

This was an invigorating night, punters wreathed in smiles as they enjoyed the darkly tinged music and celebrated the creativity of a label that deserves to go a long way. Make sure you have a listen to their latest offerings below – including music from Octavcat, who also made a strong impression at the night but unfortunately Arcana was not on hand to tell you how much!

Switched On – Awamu Together festival

A nod in the direction of the Awamu Together festival, due to take place over the long weekend of 29-31 July 2022. All profits from the festival go directly to the Awamu charity’s work with vulnerable women and children in Kampala, Uganda, which explains the festival hashtag, #fundraving!

Together 2022 will once again be set on a farm surrounded by the Chiltern hills, with the location made available to ticket holders nearer the time.

The line-up is tempting to say the least, with – among many others – Echaskech, BUNKR, Steve Cobby and Alucidnation all confirmed. The instruction on the festival website is to take Monday off, with appearances from Bunty & Jomotopia, The Mauskovich Dance Band, Bill Brewster, Yidah and Tom Blip all scheduled on the Sunday.

For more information, and to buy tickets, head to the festival website

Switched On – BUNKR: Graveyard Orbit (VLSI Records)

What’s the story?

It’s second album time for BUNKR. His time between albums one and two appears to have been well spent, with a keen emphasis on open textures and broad synth lines. The second BUNKR album is inspired by where satellites go when they die – Graveyard Orbit being a term for the universal car park they are moved to when operational life is done, and they are retired as space junk.

What’s the music like?

In a word, vibrant. The music for Graveyard Orbit is every bit as enjoyable as the BUNKR debut, and if anything a little more nuanced. There is also a touch of sadness about the satellites’ fate, felt most keenly in the beatless Vanguard Distress Signal.

Terminus 23 has an appealing warmth, while the glittering synths of Stargazing are rather special. 6am Eternal plays with expansive drones as a Bach-like synth line snakes through the textures, while Graveyard Orbit itself summons up a shuffling percussion track to go with its cool expanse. Glacial Shift is a woozy affair, the keyboards shimmering like the northern lights, while Astral Spectral pulses with activity, its quick beat and urgent lines rushing forwards. Dark Chorale has a subtle similarity to the harmonic movement of Primal Scream’s Come Together, which turns out to be a kindred spirit in feeling too.

Does it all work?

It does. BUNKR’S second album keeps everything that was good about the first, and builds on it rather effortlessly What’s not to like?

Is it recommended?

Very much so – as long as it is purchased in tandem with the first. With fluent writing and rhythmic invention, the Brighton-based producer has moved on a step from his already impressive achievements!

Stream and Buy

Switched On – BUNKR: The Initiation Well Remixed (VLSI)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

BUNKR’s album The Initiation Well proved to be one of the sleeper electronic hits of 2019, showing off the ability of Brighton’s James Dean to present an album of really well thought out electronica.

Now as a companion piece he has commissioned an album’s worth of remixes, with eight very different interpretations ranging from Digitonal to preston.outatime.

What’s the music like?

Both calming and invigorating, in equal measure. The collection is presented in a logical order, so we begin with a dreamy Digitonal remix of For The Birds, setting the scene beautifully as the track is left in suspension, bisected by a soft piano.

Fujiya & Miyagi do a typically fuzzy take on Solitary Drift, with added flutter and distortion that suits it really well – and their own half-whispered vocals. Octavcat then ensure Solar Wings takes off with its broad chords and busy rhythm.

The upfront, block beats of preston.outatime take Left For Dust to a tougher dancefloor, while Jonathan Krisp gets some acidic squiggles going against the slow moving backdrop of The Initiation Well itself. East Of Eden acquires more bleeps and movement, a really nice glitchy bit of techno applied by Lextron, while the remix of Docking Procedure finds Infinite Scale going under the surface with a head-nodding bit of dub. Finally label heads Echaskech apply their typically robust beats to a heady remix of Left For Dust.

Does it all work?

Yes. Importantly this set of remixes works as an album too, such is the intelligent arrangement of different tempos, textures and beats. All the BUNKR originals are complemented but remain recognisably the work of Dean himself.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. If you liked the original album you’ll find this imaginatively realised remix collection complements it perfectly.

Stream

Buy

Playlist – BUNKR

It gives us great pleasure to welcome BUNKR – aka James Dean – as the first contributor to Arcana’s playlist section this decade!

In an hour of music, James takes us through “a collection of tracks I love and artists I admire who have no doubt helped to shape the BUNKR sound”. Over the last year the BUNKR sounds has been established through the very fine instrumental album The Initiation Well, containing ‘finely crafted pictures where the imagination is left open’, according to a certain Arcana website.

Our playlist takes in blissful, slowly shifting ambience from Susumu Yokota and Steve Hauschildt, before the music gains more rhythmic impetus from R84D and Plaid. Fujiya & Miyagi are up next, applying their distinctive hushed vocals to a remix of BUNKR’s own Solitary Drift, from The Initiation Well remix album due to be reviewed on this site soon.

Moving on to more intricate constructions, we hear from Yimino and Baccara Smart, preston.outatime and the twisted synth lines of Dalham. Electronica royalty Boards of Canada are next, then the contrasting pictures offered by the remote Lost Idol and the lush Ochre. Finally µ-Ziq takes us into orbit with Goodbye, Goodbye, the closing track from his Royal Astronomy album of 1999.

Our thanks to James for a fine hour of new music, introducing us to new names and reinforcing some established ones! Enjoy on Spotify below…