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Regis - Complete Works 1994-2001

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Artist: Regis

Album: Complete Works 1994-2001

Label: Downwards

Review date: Jul. 25, 2012

Karl O’Conner’s dive into the early 1990s U.K. techno scene had strict aims. His techno didn’t deviate from the pumping floor beats that defined the form, but it was distinct from the U.S. music that was taking off all over Europe. Both his DJ identity, Regis, and his label, Downwards, were all about removing distractions. Often, that meant leaving big 4/4s unadorned, with just lagging hi-hat and short loops of croaking synth providing the slightest wash of color. Vocal samples; dramatic stops; distinct sections; even stabby keyboard hooks: all out of the question.

O’Conner has talked about wanting to make his work more than just club music, but it’s also hard to imagine a truer setting for the tracks collected on his Complete Works. An early cut like “Lapal” feels like the atomic nucleus of a long dance set, stripped of the lighter particles and any chemical bonds to other genres. Hearing more than 200 straight minutes of Regis minimalism over three discs is different from a club set, though — with the whorl of his fingerprint guiding every track, there is no pace, no sway between light and hardness. Particularly on the first two volumes, it’s all hardcore. As these were singles and EPs, there’s an intimidating amount of vitality running through it all.

Eighties industrial and post-punk directed him toward the electronic world, armed with a sense of independence and a spirit of confrontation, and when listening chronologically, those roots are apparent. "Allies" from 1995 has just a trickle of clacking tin caught in its ratchets. On 1998’s "Right Side of Reason,” a cloud of drone vibrates the speakers as much as the floor beat, with a short, shaking arpeggio driving the song forward. Compared to your run-of-the-mill techno production, it’s dirty.

The last disc, which collects tracks from the turn of the decade, feel the most fully realized as standalone listening, though they don’t deviate from the steady-state structure O’Connor defined at the outset of his career. They also anticipated a lot of what has happened in U.K. Bass music in the time since. The whisps and drones that tinted O’Connor’s middle period take over at times, with orchestral tones, rainfall and street riot FX moving "Solution" and "Broken on the Wheel" into soundtrack territory. His beatmaking remains sophisticated, hitting dervish tempos and finding ways to incorporate voice without sacrificing rawness. "A Man’s World" and "White Stains" include thickets of hand percussion and middle-eastern sounds that predate Shackleton and the Hyperdub roster’s exploration of similar territory, where musical motifs gather political overtones and dub provides the weight.

The two versions of “White Stains” included here do a lot to sum up O’Conner’s range. On each, a stacked-up slur of percussion forms the track’s beat, but they feature different degrees of feedback. The first achieves ghostly magnificence with a trembling tide that stays with the beat (and may well be a sample of Roland S. Howard’s intro to “Catholic Skin”). On second take, the noise saws away at the rest of the song in unruly, nagging fashion. The core rhythm that they share is so short and thick, it should wear itself out quickly. And yet, you want it to go on forever.

By Ben Donnelly

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