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Sandwell District – Fabric 69

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R-4470675-1365798409-8022.jpegLabel: FabricRating: 9/10

To say that Sandwell District have been one of the most exciting pairings in techno of the last decade, would be something of an understatement. Consisting of long-time DJs Function (Dave Sumner) and Regis (Karl O’Connor), the duo’s combining of abstract experimentation and post-industrial sounds with more conventional techno structures, has seen their doom-laden futurist aesthetic become something of a hallmark sound. Add to this their uncompromised  reputation for playing out, and it’s little wonder that they’ve earned a reputation as minor techno deities.

All in all, it makes fabric 69 a rather exciting prospect, not least because it is the first record from the duo since their 2011 album Feed-Forward.  As you might expect, it’s a encapsulation of the Sandwell District sound: minimal soundscapes, gravelly basslines, stabbing percussion, haunted synths that shimmer with understatement. It’s a record that is all about subtle transitions. The opening is muted, gentle almost, as dark ambient cuts from Silent Servant and Function himself,  gradually give way to slightly more prominent numbers from Vatican Shadow and Ike Yard. By the time the record has zipped through its first ten tracks and arrived at Mary Velo’s Detune, proceedings have become  tougher, the unrelenting scuzzy bassline and echoing pads lending a sudden weightiness to the sounds at work.

It’s a trajectory that continues into the second half of the mix, as the mid-section flits between full bodied highly-wrought techno experimentation from the likes of Sandwell District’s long-time associate Rrose and newcomer Samuel Kerridge, and more ‘conventional’ sounds from the likes of Carl Craig and Untold. The tweaked acid of Plastikman’s Plasticine takes the record into the final act, with  a crescendo of cuts from VCMG, Laurent Garnier and Trevino building to the poignant Detrioit-indebted swansong of Function’s Voicepoint.

Yet, it isn’t the near flawless track selection that elevates fabric 69 to being something more than your average mix CD. It is the way it has been assembled. Comprised of thirty tracks, some of which last for less than thirty seconds, the sense of meticulous attention to detail is astounding. The press release describes how Function tweaked the recording ‘hundreds of times’, slaving over the minor nuances and textures within the body of the mix. And it certainly shows. It might be something of a cliché to state, but  fabric 69 sounds  less like a mixed compilation than an artist album in itself: a highly considered, collage of borrowed sounds woven into something genuinely new and original.

Sandwell District’s fabric 69 is a success on all accounts then, and presents a major coup for the long-running mix series. In fact, this is probably fabric’s most interesting and aesthetically accomplished techno outing since Shackleton’s jaw-dropping entry over two years ago. What’s more, for long-starved devotees of Function and Regis’ work together, the mix is not only a fantastic reminder of why we first went mad for their sound, but a welcome suggestion there are some miles left in their partnership yet. 

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