- In his now-famous email rant from earlier this month, post-punk icon Steve Albini said electronic music was "radical and different" only in the days of bands like Kraftwerk, D.A.F. and Cabaret Voltaire, before it was "co-opted by dance/club music." Batshit crazy as that email may have been, there was a kernel of truth to it—electronic music before club culture was something very different, and Albini is not alone in his preference for that era. Take Karl O'Connor, the techno artist better known as Regis. "Electronic music was really sophisticated in the mid '80s," he once told The Quietus, "but then it just seemed a bit cheap. Dungarees, men with ponytails, it upset me quite a lot to be honest." He even referred to early acid house ravers as "the kind of blokes who used to beat me up on my way home from Fad Gadget concerts."
That might be a little hard to take seriously coming from a man who's spent the last two decades playing in clubs, but a look at O'Connor's body of work proves he's not kidding. From the playful nihilism of his techno productions, to the exquisitely bleak records on Downwards (his label with Female), to the aesthetic of names like British Murder Boys, he's always pledged loyalty to that earlier, darker, post-punk-rooted era of electronic music. It's always been a defining feature of his style, as well as that of the "Birmingham sound" he helped create, but it's come into focus more than ever in the past few years. Manbait, which is named after a song by the synth-punk band he played in as a teenager (remixed here), documents this phase of O'Connor's productions.
Manbait brings together tracks released between 2010 and the present day, a period when O'Connor worked more and more with Blackest Ever Black, while Sandwell District (his collective with Function, Female and Silent Servant) slowly dissolved. There are Regis originals, like "Blood Witness" and "Blinding Horses," as well as remixes of artists like Vatican Shadow, Raime and Factory Records outfit Ike Yard, plus an "Alternate Version" of Tropic Of Cancer's "Plant Lilies At My Head," which O'Connor helped produce.
On paper that might sound lumpy, but in fact Manbait hangs together exceptionally well. The sound throughout is sleek, angular and atmospheric—more off-kilter than Sandwell District and a far cry from the dense brutality of Regis classics like Gymnastics or Penetration. You almost never get a standard techno pulse. The two versions of "Blood Witness" are the main bangers here, and they ride odd, stumbling rhythms. Some grooves are expressive in a way that's beyond most producers. Listen to the way drums creep on the rework of Vatican Shadow's "Church Of All Images," or the threatening swagger they have on CUB's "C U 1."
The album has a lot of inspired ambience as well. Dalhous's "He Was Human & Belonged With Humans" is whittled down to something intensely visual yet barely there. The "Stableboy Version" of "Blinding Horse" guts the original, leaving just enough detail to evoke an ominous sense of scale. Even the album's meatiest beats are offset by sounds that soar miles overhead, like the fuzzy guitars on "Blinding Horses (Original 12-Inch Mix)" or the angelic keys on Regis's rework of Raime's "The Foundry." Throughout the compilation, a noir-ish atmosphere prevails—the feeling of slick alleys and overcast skies.
In a way, this album shows Regis doing to techno what bands like Joy Division did to punk: replacing the linear rhythms with jagged ones, adding depth and variety to the form while maintaining its overall spirit. In that sense, this recent era of Regis productions feels like a culmination of what O'Connor's been going for all along. Manbait is not a collection of his most essential productions, nor does it try to be. But by mining the most recent—and, one could argue, mature—era of his music, it gets to root of O'Connor's unique musical identity.
01. Ike Yard - Loss (Regis Version)
02. Dalhous - He Was Human And Belonged With Humans (Regis Version)
03. Regis - Blood Witness (Original 12-Inch Mix)
04. Vatican Shadow - Church Of All Images (Regis Version)
05. Family Sex - Manbait (Regis Version)
06. Regis - Blinding Horses (Original 12-Inch Mix)
07. CUB - C U 1
08. Regis - Blood Witness (Downwards Extended Version)
09. Tropic of Cancer - Plant Lilies At My Head (Alternate Version)
10. Regis - Blinding Horses (Turin Version)
11. Raime - This Foundry (Regis Version)
12. Regis - Blinding Horses (Stableboy Version)