Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Boxset Review - De:Fence Records - 10x10 Vinyl Box Set

De:Fence Records' 10x10 Vinyl Box Set comes as the culmination of a seven year project from OnTheFly, bringing together the electronic fringes of those involved in Fence to show there is more to the East Neuk than the folk it is so widely known for.  Each of the 10" records is available individually from De:Fence’s bandcamp, with the box available as an add-on as well as a standalone release.

From looking at the set and the list of contributors it's not hard to tell that the collection fulfils the two expectations of a great box set: full of hard to find material that without compromising in quality and packaging to be proud of.  The set is presented in a wooden box that snugly fits all ten records in a felt lined interior, accompanied with a certificate of authentication.  The box comes in four runs of ten (now in its last set), each varying in wood tones and print colours.  It's a hugely special labour of love that thoroughly deserves its price tag.

Musically the set is comprised, somewhat self-explanatorily, of ten 10" vinyls released over the past seven years.  Eight of the ten are splits with the fifth and tenth release compiling collaborative works under the name Ministry Of Defence.  As with all Fence releases, collaboration is key to the whole set, and what makes it so special.

The records can be split roughly into four categories: releases that may be seen as collector’s items with exclusive material for fans of the more known artists; the releases that fans of an artist will buy, and subsequently be introduced to the other side; and the Ministry Of Defence records.

Of the collectables there are three.  The Jon Hopkins and Reuben Taylor split is the most sought after, and it is easy to see why.  Circle My Demise  is a stunningly beautiful, drawn out early collaboration between Jon Hopkins and King Creosote, predating Diamond Mine  by five years, although still having the understated charm of their later collaboration, rather than the earlier, Jon Hopkins produced Bombshell.  This, along with the ambient collaboration with Barbarossa is a hard act for Reuben Taylor to follow.  In spite of this Fanfare  is an ambitious symphonic work, a mile away from Taylor’s playing with JamesYorkston and Meursault.  The neo-baroque tendencies mixed with MIDI production threaten to question its integrity, but from seeing Reuben play live you can grasp the tone of the piece a little better and understand where its tongue is positioned.

Fence fans will be glad to see a rare release from HMS Ginafore, whose albums are long out of print and extremely difficult to find.  On listening to 10x10:07  it’s easy to see just why Ginafore’s voice is such a cult favourite.  Rock Of Ages  and Take My Hand  are both gentle and sparse songs, the former with electronic undertones while the latter percussion-less, on which there is an ethereal quality to the vocals.  King Creosote remixes Having Wintered  showing that a voice this strong can sit against anything with ease, even the bizarre but brilliant tango inflections Kenny brings to the fray.  Iona Marshall’s soft but dramatic side draws from Celtic folk as well as turn of the millennium electronic music.  The percussion on Free Elephants  is a little underwhelming, but made up for in the songwriting and singing.

Finally, Malcolm Middleton’s contribution makes up the three more collectable records.  Middleton’s distinctive style and voice carry the songs in a typically miserable yet uplifting manner that feels like a direct predecessor to Human Don’t Be Angry.  Despite the title and lyrical content The Whole World’s Gone To Fuck  is not as downbeat as it may initially seem, whilst A.W.L.  veers towards Randolph’s Leap in terms of upbeat, sing-along tunes.  The other side is complemented by River Of Slime, aka Kev from FOUND.  Slime On De-Fence is ten minutes of electronica that varies from a jittery, danceable beat to looped samples that get increasingly cut up forming an abstract piece almost reminiscent of latter-day Oneohtrix Point Never over a trip hop beat.

The remaining records may not have such a wide appeal, but are certainly no less brilliant.  OnTheFly opens the set with High Street,  a trip hop track that shifts between the light and the shade, including a haunting contribution from King Creosote.  Submachine takes more from the darker side with, built around a laid back beat and a driving bass line with cut-up and processed vocals.  Reporter compliments OnTheFly with a similar, albeit more traditional, downtempo feel, taking as much from Air as it does from the Balearic sounds of the late '90's.  Reporter’s sun-stroked melodies and warm beats grow naturally and flow fluidly.

Seven Sang provides a gentle melody against intricate but laid-back beats that twist and turn in the same way as early Jon Hopkins records.  This pairing of simple songs with involved production makes Still Life  and Dragons  honest and personal before the ambient sounds of StolenLove.Stop.Repeat follow in the same vein with remixed from Art Pedro and OnTheFly.  In line with the theme of 10x10 these remixes show the delicate building blocks in a new light, graced with soft beats of Art Pedro and the darker, more left-inclined production of OnTheFly.

Also of interest to fans, SteXis is a collaborative effort between Steve Mason and Alexis Giles.  As Fuck My Acid  implies, SteXis is an acid house outing for the duo, with slowly morphing Roland TB-303 bass lines taking the forefront in this '90's throwback.  The efforts are impressive in their authenticity, but are overshadowed by Jonnie Common, who reinterprets Bed Bugs and Hand – Hand  from 2011's excellent Master Of None.  These re-recordings are representation of Common’s live sound at the time, and the strength of the songs shine, acting as either a great introduction to Jonnie’s music, or set of valuable alternative versions.  As always these songs are accompanied by a phone message and a short ditty that feels more like an idea for a song, rather than a song in itself.

Viva Stereo offer Alpha State,  a regimented and motoric song that pulses on, alongside the much more warm and laid back Glassed,  which would make for an excellent summer selection with its light percussion and synths and wonky vocals. Con Brio step up the production with percussive electronica comprised of busy and jittery beats that are underscored by a slow and almost ambient synths.  As with Seven Sang the percussion morphs and is constantly moving with no bar the same as the last.

FOUND take a similar route to Jonnie Common, allowing for a few ditty’s to be included in the short contribution.  Their undeniably hooky melodies are backdropped by stuttery synths on FND043,  whilst Find Some Peace  is an instrumental jam, closed with the coda Find Some Piece.  Lo-fi electronic pop group Weasel Squeezer rounds the split off wrapping rockier melodies in an 8-bit sound on Weasel War Dance.

The Ministry Of Defence records, however, are the real cornerstones of the set, with the collaborations epitomising the Fence ethic.  Being comprised of various collaborators the records are more varied, ranging from the indie of Turning Around Like You  to the minimal sounds of Keep Busy,  the tropical house of Malcamalgam  to the off-kilter hip hop of Five Spice Smile.  All this is reigned in and presented as well curated 10"s that flow as well as any of the others in the set.  Nothing here falls short of the mark, each seeping with integrity, honesty, passion and prowess.  These records alone are a fine example of Scotland’s diverse output, and taken as part of the expansive set only cements this diversity and talent in all fields. This is a truly fine release.

- Ashley Leiper

De:Fence Records - 10x10 Vinyl Box Set  is out now via De:Fence Records and is available here.  Only three copies remain.

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