Portable: Gridshift

VA: What Was It Like Before I Got Into Electricity?

Judging by its catalogue, the minimal techno imprint Süd could be regarded as a sister label to Background Records. Sutekh and Andy Vaz have contributed to both, while Portable's (Alan Abrahams) Background Records releases include Futuristic Experiments 005, the EP Flicker, and the renowned Cycling. He inaugurated Süd, his own label, almost three years ago with the 12-inch Gridshift and followed it up with the equally auspicious What Was It Like Before I Got Into Electricity? compilation.

Though Abrahams moved from South Africa to London in 1997, African roots and rhythms remain a core dimension of his alluring minimal house style. Prodded by a deep bass-driven groove and laden with pristine atmospheres, “Don't Give Up” rises like the most enveloping sunlit morning as hypnotic calls and voices merge with the insistent surges of a Booker T. organ; the bumping “Cassette” presents an equally intoxicating fusion of traditional percussion, vocal accents, and spindly electronic patterns. Interestingly, the B side's contents are slightly more ruminative. Amidst incessant wildlife chatter, “Thought” undertakes a ponderous trek through the electronic outback while the spectral lurch of “Kelp” unfurls languidly. Gridshift provides an enticing sampling of Portable's mesmerizing sound.

With contributors like Farben, Andy Vaz, and Sutekh, What Was It Like Before I Got Into Electricity? resembles a town hall gathering of front-line minimal techno artists though the styles showcased extend further. If Vaz hews most closely to the minimal line with his percolating “Süd Variation,” Jan Jelinek emphasizes shimmying soul in his Farben outing “A Famous Myth”; Sutekh's (Seth Horvitz) “After Laughter” is soulful too, though refracted through a clanking mass of shimmer. A considerably noisier array of ripples and rustles persists throughout Jay Haze's similarly soulful “Hours of Love” but not enough to destabilize the song's bass anchor. Taking a dubbier route, Lump's (Arttu Snellman) “Poukama” gently lopes while Peter F. Spiess's dub-house “Shutdown” rolls out powered by a broiling bass pulse and vocodered voice echoes. Eschewing beats altogether, Abrahams ends the two-disc set with exotic atmospheres in “Untitled.”

June 2005