- Most longtime Downwards fans won't be surprised to learn that Halha (20 Years of Downwards) isn't your conventional retrospective. For starters, label essentials Female and Portion Reform are nowhere to be found. Instead we get tracks from artists like Talker, who has never appeared on Downwards before, and Fret, AKA Mark Farmer and Mick Harris, who have only released material on related imprints Zeitgeist and Resonance. Downwards staple Anthony Child, better known as Surgeon, does make an appearance, but it's an uncharacteristic chunk of electronic experimentation called "Over Napoli," which was originally released on the unaffiliated label Slut Smalls. As for label proprietor Karl O'Connor, AKA Regis, he contributes just a Substance version of the 1996 cut "Cold Water." Apparently, O'Connor prefers to spotlight fresh faces, such as OAKE and Kerridge, both of whom have made their Downwards debuts within the last year.
Despite Halha being more of an Odds & Sods kind of thing, O'Connor's programming is subtle and effective in telling his label's story. Though all of them are rare or previously unreleased, these nine tracks form a balanced picture of the part-techno, part-post-punk sound Downwards created over the years. Just get a load of side A: pulled from one of the very first slabs of vinyl he ever released, Antonym's "Consumer Device" has nothing to do with techno whatsoever—it sounds more inspired by early Neue Deutsche Welle. The side then moves on to "None Of This," Farmer's austere workout in rhythmic noise, and the aforementioned Substance remix. The latter is one of Halha's most formal expressions of techno, yet it's built from components that echo the DIY electronics and industrial elements found in the previous two tracks.
The set's most thorough embodiment of Downwards' aesthetic might be Sleeparchive's version of "The Unabridged Truth," a piece from Concrete Fence, O'Connor's current collaboration with avant-garde composer Russell Haswell. The original, which appeared in August on the duo's 12-inch for PAN, is hulking and dense, and the way it's put into lurching motion feels of a piece with the current wave of pummeling technoise. With his remix, however, master sound architect Sleeparchive shapes the bruiser into something elegant and functional. All those leaden textures are now carefully tempered with lost-in-space atmospherics, the lurch transformed into a cruising-altitude propulsion, one whose sublime automation is loyal to techno's core precepts.
The chances are good Halha will soon prove to be as rare an acquisition as most of the titles that came before it. After all, Downwards appears to pride itself on product exclusivity. But if you fancy yourself a connoisseur of modern, cutting-edge electronic music, it's pretty damn essential.
01. Antonym - Consumer Device
02. Mark Farmer - None Of This
03. Regis - Cold Water (Substance Version)
04. Anthony Child - Over Napoli
05. Fret - Untitled
06. Concrete Fence - The Unabridged Truth (Sleeparchive Version)
07. Talker - Cut The Weight (Pts. I & II)
08. Oake - Tenoun Rah Zan
09. Kerridge - A Shadown Cast