Various Artists
B12 Records Archives Volumes 1 & 2

By Kone-R

The rumours of a B12 Records CD release of all those rare-as-hens-teeth 12”s from back in ‘the golden era of British techno’ has long been mooted — finally the time has arrived. Seven double-CD packages compiling no less than 98 tracks (!!), including every track originally committed to wax and a rather healthy 27 which have never previously seen the light of day in any format. Last Days of Silence, the recent ‘comeback’ album released after more than a decade away, was something of a patchy effort that never quite recaptured those halcyon days of the early 90s, but the moment you put on disc one, volume one of this archive series, opening tracks Metropolis and Obsessed (both plucked from the label's first EP for the duo's debut album for Warp, the seminal Electro Soma, with Rutter and Golding recording under the name Musicology), immediately remind you why the production duo attained such legendary status. Whilst Fear of Expression has dated slightly with it’s sci-fi samples, Telefone 529 (again, later to appear on Warp) is sounding as fresh and downright funky as it did the first time I heard it. So, what of the first two unreleased archive finds? Weighing in at only a couple of minutes, Ming sounds like little more than a studio outtake; you can see how it ended up on the cutting room floor. The same can’t be said of Eiyla however — with its trademark emotive pads and sparse drums this is vintage stuff and it’s criminal that this has lain dormant for so long. Disc two (B1202 – Rutter and Golding this time masquerading as ‘2001’) doesn’t contain the same stuff of legend as disc one but is still a fascinating document. Space Age, with its naggingly insistent synths and tribal rhythm, and the slightly clumsy sounding drums of Rings of Saturn, are totally upstaged by the sheer tech-funk blast that is Future Bass Seven, whilst the original EP closer Weightless Condition drops the tempo and vibe right down. Another two unreleased tracks follow: Don’t Always Look At The Rain, an ambient march as good as any on the later Warp albums, and Colloid, recorded later than the other tracks here.

Volume two features the label's third and fourth releases, the first disc introducing some of the other artists who graced the label along with Rutter and Golding themselves. Incredibly, B1203 comprised Kirk Degiorgio’s first ever release on vinyl (presenting tracks under two of his aliases that would come to be equated with quality techno in later years, Future/Past and As One), as well as a track by Lee Purkis (InSync) and Matt Cogger (Neuropolitique), who both also recorded for seminal UK electronic label Irdial (incidentally, Purkis himself recently ended an extended period of silence by launching the excellent Fortune8 label). These tracks all sound rather raw compared to the material on volume one, and while all these artists would go on to produce some great works of UK techno, these efforts occasionally sound like young producers finding their feet with limited resources, although As One’s Harmony Park drops major hints as to the jazzy direction Degiorgio would later take.

B1204 saw the label back in the hands of the labels founders, once again in their Musicology guise. Opener Preminition (sic) was featured on Warp’s first Artifical Intelligence compilation, an album that arguably changed the face of music while spawning a million internet arguments about the term ‘IDM’; strange then, that this track is almost the antithesis of what Warp were about to spawn — biig, brash ravey stabs and female vocal samples, this was far from your archetypal home-listening music. Bubbles is also a high-tempo number at odds with the abstract electronica moniker, but let’s not forget that this is techno music first and foremost. Two more unreleased tracks complete the package — Kaxaia-80 and Interlopa are both high quality cuts that add serious value. But let’s face it, the number of people who buy individual volumes of this series will be few and far between — it’s aimed squarely at the collector, the completist who wants to be the proud owner of a historical document of a unique period of musical innovation. And this archive series is nothing if not that — the aural equivalent of a lush, futuristic, soulful techno time machine.
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