- "There are many great labels, but they just have one sound—one techno sound, for example. For us, it was always about breaking out." When Dario Zenker said this to Resident Advisor's Matt Unicomb in 2014, you could see what he meant. For much of its life, Ilian Tape, which he runs with his brother Marco, had been in a state of perpetual motion. From turbid minimal through to driving, dubby techno, with excursions into electronica and even dubstep, it felt like the brothers were always looking for escape routes. But from 2012 or so, as the Munich label found new success, its sounds began to consolidate.
The dubbiness became a dreamy, smudged euphoria. The drums started to boom, taking on a syncopated lope that implied sampled breakbeats even when they weren't present (though they often were). The grooves wheezed with compression, as if they'd travelled a long way—from the '90s, perhaps—and were stomping doggedly into the future. As the style slimmed down so did the roster, and these trademark sounds were batted between a handful of core artists until it became difficult, sometimes, to guess who had made what. This compilation, celebrating ten years of Ilian Tape, reflects several years of refinement. It's not about "breaking out" but the opposite: settling into a well-worn formula.
Only one featured artist is new to the label, but it doesn't feel as though he is. Shed, AKA René Pawlowitz, might be the single dominating influence on Ilian Tape's ravey melancholy. His contribution, under the name Seelow, reflects his more recent tastes—along with Andrés Zacco's "Shapes" and Rupcy's thunderous "Straits," it's one of the few straighter techno tracks on the compilation. Many other contributors invoke an older Pawlowitz sound: the Shed of Shedding The Past, as developed and distilled across the Ilian Tape catalogue.
Take, for instance, the Zenker Brothers' "Haras," a forbidding broken-beat groover that picks up rich vapour-trail synths in its second half. Andrea's "Blew" finely balances rumpled funk with wafting euphoria. Skee Mask amps up the melancholy on "Excess Signal," a twinkling night sky of percussion and sampled piano. Each of these tracks uses similar sounds and ideas to chip away at the same stylistic edifice. They're all excellent, but across a dozen similar-sounding tracks the quality was bound to dip eventually.
Marco Zenker's "Sumit" has the rugged momentum, but lacks the euphoric pay-off. The Andrea track, "Blew," is immediately followed by Regen's "Dome," a weaker execution of a very similar idea. And Struction over-polishes the sound on the jazzy "Seel," which has an overlong outro and an awkward garage skip to its groove. These tracks aren't out-and-out bad—their flaws might have been less obvious on a more varied compilation. But with one exception—Roger 23's screwball "Of Poor Quality And Communication"—A Decade Ilian Tape doesn’t seem to be going for variety. It lacks those "breaking out" moments Dario mentioned. And perhaps it's those moments, rather than any one style, that have kept Ilian Tape vital for a decade.
A1 Skee Mask - Excess Signal
A2 Struction - Seel
B1 Stenny - P-Zone
B2 Zenker Brothers - Haras
C1 Seelow - KKid_V2
C2 Marco Zenker - Sumit
D1 Rupcy - Straits
D2 Andrea - Blew
E1 Regen - Dome
E2 Roger 23 - Of Poor Quality And Communication
F1 Andrés Zacco - Shapes
F2 Dario Zenker - Tilian