19 Feb [No Peace No Love No Unity] – Deciphering the Blackest Ever Black
Blackest Ever Black was / is a London-born label, founded in 2010 by Kiran Sande. Temporarily based in Berlin until 2016, before it relocated to London. Sande started label for reasons that ‘anyone ever started something of personal significance: guilt, envy, revenge’. Over the decade, label released some of the most progressive and forward-thinking contemporary music, rooted in Sande’s inerrable taste in 1980s and 1990s music, but with a yet unseen touch and vision. Over the years Blackest, directly or indirectly (through its offshoot labels), put its name on over 100 releases, including brand new albums, mythology-building mixtapes and reissues of forgotten and underappreciated classics. The label closed its doors at the end of 2019.
The article is divided into a several sections: other than this short introduction, part two tries to put Blackest’s practice into a context of modern business and take a few important lessons out of it, part three goes through what I find to be the label’s best records, part four is the members-only content (a visual moodboard, playlists), and finally there’s a conclusion and directions for some further research…
Four important lessons from Blackest Ever Black’s practice
01. What you’re not is as important as what you are
When talking about success, contemporary artist Kenneth Goldsmith said: “Success lies in knowing what to include – and more important – leave out.” If we put this into a context of business, the sentiment could be connected to an (over)used quote by Geoffrey Zakarian: “Determine who you are and what your brand is, and what you’re not. The rest of it is just a lot of noise.” But what does this have to do with music label Blackest Ever Black?
In the label’s formative years, it was a common practice for Blackest Ever Black to release limited, DIY CD-Rs and DJ mixes / playlists. Those were usually filled with non-label releases, mostly focusing on rare oddities and leftfield choices from the 1980s. When asked about it, Kiran Sande said:
“They offer a parallel narrative to the records, give some sense of the label’s inner life, I think. The mixes were particularly important in the early days, in establishing the mythology of the label, or the cosmology of it – they helped create a space around the records, and hopefully thereby elevate them a little bit. I wanted people to know where our allegiances were, not only what we aligned ourselves with, but also what we weren’t bothered with: arguably the most important thing about those mixes isn’t what’s included on them, but what’s excluded.”
Blackest Ever Black (unconsciously or consciously) targeted the ‘ideal self’ persona of hardcore music fans and journalists, the one which doesn’t necessarily fit their actual reality but, rather, represent an aspiration (Sirgy 1982), shaped by imagination of ideals and goals. Blackest’s presence was perceived as authentic, rebellious, subcultural and inexplicably ‘cool’; and sometimes revealing too much can damage any of those…
02. Why specialize?
Blackest Ever Black was known for its unpredictable, even non-existent, genre policy. You could never know what will they release next. Internet democratized the way we consume media, made music more accessible than ever for a proactive user (the age of “prosumer capitalism”, Ritzer and Jurgenson, 2010) and effectively killed a niche subculture while creating a new, mutant one, in the process.
Interdisciplinary artist Adam Good constructed a term ‘DJ of thought’, referring to a contemporary polymaths who are ‘making connections, identifying secret lineages, between the past and the present, and then projecting into the future.’ It’s easy to connect this with Sande’s idea about everything being “just a link to something else. What I try to do is offer a little map and the map is supposed to guide you. It’s the search that’s important.“
Sande adds that “it’s possible to be progressive and classicist at the same time“, noting that “music is all about time travel, and that you can move both ways at the same time.” When put in context, this can be correlated with cultural theorist Nicolas Bourriaud’s claims that the prefix ‘post-‘ (intensively used later in this article) does not signal negation or surpassing but rather to a zone of activity.
Post-modernists deny the idea of ‘radical new art’, they consider the art production as a gradual re-shuffling of a basic set of cultural terms through their strategic reuse and eventual transformation (Verwoert, 2007). Rachel Falconer (2015) added that cognitive remixing uses existing knowledge in order to create new knowledge through transdisciplinary practice, where polymath plays the roles of an artist and curator simultaneously. This is exactly what made Blackest Ever Black’s opus so exquisite, after realizing what they do and don’t like, they played to those cards in yet unseen ways, creating authentic hybrids of Industrial, Dub, Ambient, Drum & Bass, Post-Punk and plethora of other genres. So, in short, don’t work on perfecting your craft; work on perfecting your point of view.
03. Details make the difference
Following the first sentence of the previous point – you could never know what Blackest Ever Black will release next, but once they did, you instantly knew because it was unmistakably ‘Blackest’. That certainly wasn’t a product of one element – labels often act like Art Direction is limited to the record’s cover art. A visual unification of label’s catalog may be impressive on the first look, but it could equally be a limiting factor to its progression (more in #4).
Blackest Ever Black mastered the Art Direction field, properly understanding that there are several independent elements which eventually affect the “product’s” presentation in a collective way. Let’s start with a name, which could easily be a meme if positioned ‘wrong’: “The genre is thriller, not horror.” says Sande, adding: “There’s an element of humor to it, sure, but it’s also deadly serious. The two are not mutually exclusive, and I reserve the right for it to be both. Personally I think a lack of humor fatally undermines seriousness anyway… I mean, how can you take someone without a sense of humor seriously?” Finally, he reveals the power of visualization: “You want a name that you could imagine, like, a biker having studded on the back of their jacket.”
So there was a well-thought (and seemingly meaningful) name, but there were also a mysterious poetry and book excerpts in press releases, enigmatic liner notes, uncomfortable playlist titles, out-of-context obscure screenshots on the website, unmistakably *Blackest* weird song and album naming, so once the record finally came out; the cover art was just an icing on the cake, a little moment of ecstasy when you’re opening a pack of NBA stickers and wondering what’s inside.
04. Reinvention is necessary
Stuart Hall intelligently observed: “Identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think. Perhaps instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact…we should think, instead, of identity as a production which is never complete, always in process and always constituted within…“. The idea of an identity being a fluid thing is both revolutionary and necessary in today’s world.
Dominick Fernow, an artist known for his successful reinventions through various aliases (Prurient, Vatican Shadow, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement…), recognized that in BEB practice: “Kiran was really great at creating an aesthetic and consistency, but he was really good at breaking it once the various templates that represented the phases of the label were set. That’s what a great classic label should do.”, he also added that “A lot of people fall into the trap of making a template for their releases, but the only thing that makes a template interesting is when you break it”.
Radical moves only seem radical until you actually do them, through its history Blackest Ever Black had always been a work in progress — filling (or bridging) the gaps with regular releases and reissuing obscure records (in order to (successfully) develop an image of the impeccable taste maker. Just in time, around the middle of the decade, a new flesh emerged — born out of the label’s unconscious mentorship, and eventually provided an immeasurable contribution to the label’s legacy. Also, there needs to be a strong idea about what needs to be broken and what doesn’t; for that need, Blackest had a couple of specialized off-shoot labels and side-projects (more in section #5).
Still, “it’s important not to outstay your welcome, and equally important not to leave before your business is complete“, but most importantly: “if you’re not into it, don’t start it“.
The Blackest Ever Black’s 25 Best Records
*In order to keep a certain level of variety, there will be a one record per artist, listed in a chronological order
Raime – Quarter Turns Over a Living Line (2012)
Considering their involvement in the label’s birth, it was only right for Raime to have the honors of releasing a first ‘real’ album under the Blackest Ever Black umbrella, built on the foundation of duo’s magnificent (and obligatory listens) ‘Raime EP‘ [BLACKEST001], ‘If Anywhere Was Here He Would Know Where We Are‘ [BLACKEST002] and ‘Hennail‘ [BLACKEST005]. When talking about those records, Dominick Fernow said that “It was fascinating for me to find techno that wasn’t industrial, in that it was club music with an aesthetic I could relate to”.
‘Quarter Turns Over A Living Line’ certainly follows that unsettling Post-Techno formula, having enough time and space to properly build up the walls of discomfort around you; seeming like Burial’s record had been reimagined by brainwashed cult followers or Massive Attack’s record having a post-amnesia seizure. It’s like knowing that some unidentified dread slowly crawls to get you, but you don’t have any information about its progress and the exact time of its ‘attack’. You have no other option than let the unbearable paranoia consume you. A fully crystallized painting of blacker-than-black Doom Dub…
Black Rain – Now I’m Just a Number: Soundtracks 1994-95 (2012)
Compiled out of work for William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ audiobook and unreleased ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ soundtrack, long after the Black Rain’s No Wave and ‘Rock‘ days, ‘Soundtracks’ combination of Post-Industrial stalker Techno and Neo-Tokyo field recordings lurks in the background – never really getting into your face, but its agonizing sound design lets you know that underneath each hoodie that you come across on the night street could be the last face that you’ll ever see, or at least the one which will cut into your memory forever…
Located somewhere between abandoned alleys and cheap neon lights – passing by pseudo-religious ceremonies in abandoned churches, hobos getting warm beside the improvised fire and finally coming to the safe house where you get a Tarot Card reading while illegal plastic surgeries are taking place on the floor below. This is the music which constantly alarms you not to get your head up and just keep walking… faster… ‘A genuine cyberpunk artifact’.
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement – Black Magic Cannot Cross Water (2012)
Even though this was only a vinyl reissue of Hospital Productions’ record (from the same year), it’s important to list it here as a document of Kiran Sande’s ability to detect unconventional and forward-thinking projects around him and react in real-time, similarly to Vatican Shadow’s excellent ‘Iraqi Praetorian Guard‘ released around the same time. Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement’s shape-shifting shamanism succeeds in being simultaneously unsettling and calming; the rain drops are more convincing than any iPhone meditation app and Burzum-ish minimal synths are just suffocating…
“Sourced from a box of cassettes found at a market in Port Moresby, and thought to be recorded some time in the 1980s by a group of Christian missionaries shortly prior to their still unexplained disappearance”, ‘Black Magic’ brings the sounds of a monster waking up from a centuries-long sleep somewhere deep in the forest, finally fulfilling the inevitable prophecy… Its intense humming deeply disturbs the locals who know the ‘secret’ – they know that the evil will cross the water soon and that there’s no stopping it after that. The rain hasn’t been falling for too long; it just started this very moment and it will continue to fall for a long, long time…
Prurient – Through The Window (2013)
Dominick Fernow decided to make some wavy Techno under his fierce-noise Prurient moniker, a sound which was usually reserved for militant electronic prayers of Vatican Shadow. ‘Through The Window’ was recorded in 2011, during Vatican’s embryonic tape-Techno period and Prurient’s experimentation with synth-driven Electro-Industrial – while being both fascinated and disgusted with touring Europe. The release date would come almost two years later, in 2013 – just after the Vatican Shadow’s unstoppable 2012 run – and the result was some of the catchiest and most approachable music Fernow had ever produced (under any alias).
‘Interrupted’ by the four minutes of unapologetic noise assault in the middle, ‘Window’ is straight hollow, hazy-in-a-way-that-you-don’t-remember-the-last-night’s-dancefloor-at-all doom techno whose repetitive pattern of outerspace seduction seems like it go on forever… The record flows like a conscious dream, sleepwalking or just a hellish idea of starring in some video game; replaying the same level over and over again, failing to resist the observer’s (false) directions and blindly following them into a glitch, every single time. It could happen again tonight, any of this… “Listen at night in the hills watching as headlights approach.”
Cut Hands – Damballah 58 (2013)
William Bennet, out of all people, was certainly not a stranger to brute electronics, so Cut Hands and Blackest Ever Black seemed like a natural match at this point. ‘Damballah 58’ was a bridge between ‘Black Mamba‘ [BLACKEST010] and ‘Festival Of Dead‘ [BLACKESTLP010], but what made it stand out is the fact that it managed to do so much with so little.
Flowing effortlessly and painting an unusually-vivid picture for a record this short, ‘Damballah’ scores the idea of a brutalist monument being ‘repurposed’, interchanging between skull-shattering tribal dance of madness and ambient sobering-up pieces, taking a day off to process the venom out of your system…
Tomorrow the Rain Will Fall Upwards – How Great a Fame Has Departed? (2014)
An epitome in ‘isolationist electronics’. The mind-altering drone horns on side A are a thing of insufferable beauty. – like waiting (and hoping) for something to happen even though, deep down, we know that won’t be the case… Also, there are so many sentiments predicting the aura of Robert Eggers’ ‘The Lighthouse’; being isolated on a little island, operating a light house, running out of the resources and having hallucinations of _____ rescuing you…
A disintegration of a human mind made inexplicably romantic.
Stefan Jaworzin – Drained of Connotation: Stefan Jaworzyn 1982 (2014)
“Drained Of Connotation is a collection of synth improvisations recorded by Stefan Jaworzyn in 1982, recently rediscovered by the artist when trawling his cassette archive for the 2013 Skullflower KINO reissue/compilation series.” A madness-inducing, nerve-wrecking compilation of rhythmic noise, occasionally sounding like a gray area in the creative process of transforming Prurient’s harshness into a Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement’s beat-driven Predator dance of death…
This happened thirty years earlier though, even preceding Skullflower’s fuzzed-out, form-destroying antirock walks through the elephant graveyards. Now, it gets a new life, colored by *new* Blackest-optimized art direction in song naming field so I guess *Psychoanalytically Speaking, You’re Fucked*.
Killing Sound – $ixxx Harmonie$ Version (2014)
Considering the Bristol’s reputation in sound design, you better walk the walk if you talk the talk in press releases. Well Young Echo crew certainly does justice to their city, setting the stage with their debut [BLACKEST028], paying the hommage to the originators by recalling the romanticism of paranoia-induced night corners…
Still, this one-sided, nine-minutes long ‘shark-eyed junglist wrecker’ monster was a definition of “where it’s at”. Murder. Kill Kill Kill. Murder Murder. Kill Kill Kill.
December – In Advance Of The Broken Arm / Collapse (2014)
This single, weirdly having [BLACKEST035] (and sharing it with Dalhous’ demos) on it, was a first release on Blackest’s offshoot A-14 – “A14 (ay-one-four) is a 12″ imprint from the Blackest Ever Black family dedicated to delinquent dancefloor gear – from serpentine breakbeat reductions to straight-up terminator trax.”
Naturally flowing from the Killing Sound entry, the title track is *another one* in a series of sound system murderers – a night-vision, hoodie-on Techno at its best… Basically, one of *the best release ever* records if you let me turn this *serious* article thing into a *WhatsApp link sending* slang…
Raspberry Bulbs – Privacy (2014)
Raspberry Bulbs blackest debut was 2013’s ‘Deformed Worship’, a dirty, fuzzy and raw no-bullshit Rock & Roll record, not necessarily in tact with Blackest’s genre choices by that point but definitely a meaningful choice aesthetic-wise… Alerting us and setting the stage for ‘Privacy’ – a deformed hatechild of Hardcore Punk and Black Metal which basically redefines what *Deathrock* could potentially mean.
Important to note, the record displays a rarely seen success in its faultless translation of live show’s raw intensity straight to the studio work… No-fucks-given, third-eye-opening Occult rock bloodbath…
Felix K – Tragedy of the Commons (2015)
There’s a strong danger of repeating yourself when you’re doing the work like this, and as much as I’m trying to avoid it, sometimes the repetition is necessary – especially in describing sentiments which, in case of Blackest Ever Black, seem to be deeply rooted in the same pool of melancholia, sharing the aesthetic inside rather than the outside.
Felix K’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ seems like a hybrid of Prurient’s and Raime’s work on BEB, with mandatory ‘Regis’ apperance at the end (only aesthetically, again…). Felix constructs a long-form cataclysmic doomer only to turn it into a mutant Dub which, again, only runs until you find an underground club (literally) under-the-ground to lose yourself into…
Six Six Seconds – Tearing Down Heaven (2015)
“A very necessary stand-alone release for Six Six Seconds’ ‘Tearing Down Heaven’, which originally appeared on the 2012 Downwards compilation So Click Heels.”
‘Tearing Down Heaven’ was an unexplored space between HTRK’s drugged, disoriented Ambient lullabies and yet-to-be-known minimal elegies of Carla dal Forno. Somehow, that classifies it into a weird section of timeless records which are both ‘proto-‘ and ‘post-‘ simultaneously. Once again, document of both – history and quality, told through the reverb-heavy melancholia – a loveless goth pop…
Regis – Manbait (2015)
Together with Raime, Regis was probably the most important figure in Blackest Ever Black’s early image setting. Even though he primarily operated through Downwards, he provided Blackest with some of its most signature works by remixing the label’s usual suspects but also released his own EPs, most notably stellar ‘In A Syrian Tongue‘ [BLACKEST004] and ‘Turin Versions‘ [BLACKEST013].
Even though this may not necessarily be his ‘best’ release on Blackest Ever Black if you’re doing some mathematical analysis, there’s no better document of this fruitful relationship than ‘Manbait’. All of the Blackest’s signature remixes are here, club-optimized Raime, heavy-artillery of Vatican Shadow, re-imagined Tropic of Cancer and sorrowful dark-jazz ambiance of Dalhous, as well as his own head-stompers such as ‘Blood Witness’ and ‘Blinding Horses’… I usually prefer not to talk about specific songs when doing this write-ups because I want to focus on the moods and atmosphere, but this is just one of the records when mentioning songs is a must-do simply because they are undeniable.
Tarquin Manek – Tarquin Magnet (2015)
Tarquin Manek is a Blackest Ever Black’s student who eventually (and deservingly so) got the chance to show off his own talent on the ‘big stage’ (in a lack of better words), first with Tarcar [BLACKEST037], then with F ingers [BLACKEST044] and finally through his solo work, being one of the prominent figures of label’s mid decade impeccable run.
Just as the music released on Blackest (more often than not) tends to be unclassifiable, ‘Magnet’ bridges the gaps we didn’t even know we needed and constructs an Electroacoustic-Industrial-Techno-Dub mutations through the eyes of a Jazz artist. In that order, or maybe reverse, or not… Rather than leaning on label’s (at this point) predictable eclecticism and ‘expected’ genre fusions, Tarquin broke the chains, let the music get loose and thus played the double-edged card of ‘experimental’ factor to his own benefit…
Bremen – Eclipsed (2015)
Swedish duo Bremen made their debut on Blackest Ever Black with ‘Second Launch‘ [BLACKEST033], a neo-Kraut ‘Space Rock Minimalism’ which, for my taste, too often sounded like ‘improvising’ for the sake of improvisation. ‘Eclipsed’ was one that hypnotized me though…
A frozen avant-‘rock’ music found a couple of kilometers beneath the tundra level, fossil-fueled by the repetition of mountain-shapeshifting electronics and mammoth funeral guitars. ‘Eclipsed’ is a definition of a slow-melter, these ninety minutes require your patience like perhaps no other record on this list, forcing you to enter it with your head first and let it take over…
Tropic of Cancer – Stop Suffering (2015)
“The influence of Tropic of Cancer’s debut single, ‘The Dull Age’/’Victims’, on Blackest Ever Black cannot be overestimated. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the label existing without it, such was its impact on us. In some respects, it’s BLACKEST000, the ur-Blackest record, and together with Raime’s EP demo it sketched the outlines of a universe we still inhabit, and are still exploring.”
Camella’s music embodies the sadness; not only as an aesthetic or that it necessarily provokes one in you – it just sounds like it. Driven by minimal, screwed Suicide-ish electronics and ghostly whispers drowned in reverb and shoegazey tears, Tropic of Cancer’s ‘less is more’ agenda captures all the internal cries which more extroverted approach could never do. Most of the sounds through this record evoke the feeling that you have given your all and it still wasn’t enough… When the needle is spinning, the record’s title seems like an inside-joke, a memo that you wrote for yourself on a post-it knowing that you’re not able to handle it…
On the other hand, do you know any song which is titled so devastatingly utopian (in a mental sense) like *I Woke Up And The Storm Was Over*?
Caroline K – Now Wait For Last Year (2016)
‘Now Wait For The Last Year’ is (Nocturnal Emissions co-founder) Caroline K’s 1985 album, reissued by Blackest Ever Black ‘for the looks’. Matter fact, it gives you a pretty good picture of what you can find in the label’s CD-Rs and mixes – a knife-sharp crate digging.
[BLACKEST050] is a forgotten symphony of hellish Drone, funeral-procession Industrial, haunting (ignored) prayers and falsely-optimistic Ambient narcotics – coming just at the right moment to match the first rays of Sun sneaking into an abandoned cathedral…
Dalhous – The Composite Moods Collection Vol.1: House Number 44 (2016)
For an act that released no less than six records on Blackest Ever Black, and one under the Young Hunting pseudonym [BLACKEST006] you could say that they tend to get overlooked in favor of other acts… Their ‘Dalhous’ debut was in a form of exquisite ‘Mitchell Heisman‘ [BLACKEST012], claustrophobic ’90s IDM-Trip-Hop nervousness but their crowning jewel is probably the first (and for now, only) entry in ‘The Composite Moods’ series, inspired by the works of R.D. Laing.
‘Number 44’ pictures Dalhous blossoming in their full potential, delivering an equally magical and melancholic palette of IDM, Ambient and isolationist electronics, steering between the delirium-induced pink sunglasses, lonely walks throughout the north and mind-wrenching, regretful nostalgia… I’ve read somewhere about this record being driven by ‘its own demons’ and I can’t come up with anything better or more wonderful than that because that’s exactly what it is.
Secret Boyfriend – Memory Care Unit (2016)
A missing link between The Caretaker, Nick Drake and Joy Division – a noise folk record and possibly the most helplessly ‘human’ thing Blackest Ever Black released to this point. While most of the catalog could be described as ‘detached’ or ‘isolationist’, this one, together with Tropic of Cancer’s records, feels like a damaged monologue, a confession rather than an incoming threat… Being geographically isolated, rather than choosing to be isolated…
Memory Care Unit is like Leyland Kirby trying to recall how to play Joy Division tracks but failing to distinct any of their music from Arthur Russell’ lullabies, Grouper’s Alien observing files and Soviet space ambiance of Sven Grünberg, so he incorporates it all at once by the *memory*. Think of Lynch’s ‘The Elephant Man’ and its repulsive warmth.
Carla dal Forno – You Know What It’s Like (2016)
A long awaited moment, ever since her excellent debut single ‘Fast Moving Cars‘ [BLACKEST052] and eerie presence on Mince Glace [BLACKEST037] and Hide Before Dinner [BLACKEST044]… Calling it *minimal wave* or *doom pop* would sort of give you an idea what this record sounds like but it could also confuse you. Carla’s ghostly vocals are buried deep behind the walls of sorrowful synths and cold drum machines, seeming like a dubbed-out reimagination of Tropic of Cancer’s sadness, portraying the big city melancholia and helplessness of feeling physically and mentally stuck like no other.
Still, Carla’s natural sense of melody always manages to overcome the ‘cold’ and find its way to the top, making every vocal appearance a ‘pop song’ in its core. Those ‘pop’ numbers are well complemented by the bleak ambient pieces, which steer between looking through the window, aimless U-Bahn rides and distorted memories of the night before. This is my definite ‘Berlin’ record – a ‘mask’ you put on when you decide to face its streets. Like no other, in Honoré de Balzac’s manner, it succeeded in illustrating the irony of loneliness and isolation in a crowded city – the irony of fear of missing out when you have nowhere to go and no one to meet…
Pessimist – Pessimist (2017)
Berlin’s relationship with Blackest Ever Black makes sense and and you can consider it logical or even cute, but no Blackest’s relationship is as romantic as the one with Bristol – it’s just the perfect pair, a thing from the film. Pessimist made its debut on BEB with a shadow lurking, home-invasion, stealth disco of ‘Balaklava‘ [A14-03], presenting himself as the Blackest’s newest club hitman.
I guess the Pessimist’s self-titled LP is the moment everyone has been waiting for ever since the Raime’s debut – a final stage of synergic, even symbiotic, synthesis of unclassifiable dark corners of UK gutter music, underground Drum & Bass and Techno. The moment when all the blacker-than-black-spiders-crawling doom Dub morphs into a murderous, unmistakably British, dance floor gear. Faultless knife-fight dance (body) music. Who says you can’t have fun?
F ingers – Awkwardly Blissing Out (2017)
F ingers were relatively unknown, even outsiders on their Blackest Ever Black debut Hide Before Dinner [BLACKEST044]. On ‘Awkwardly Blissing Out’, campaigning on the back of their debut but also magnificent Tarquin Manek’s [BLACKEST047] and Carla dl Forno’s [BLACKESTLP015] solo works, the expectations were definitely high.
Eventually, then but also now, they proved themselves to be the finest students of the Blackest’s embryonic era – taking Blackest’s portfolio and mythology as a starting point and then subsequently assembling those narratives into their own fantasy kits, mastering their thesis by building their own brand of impossible-to-classify, nervous crossover of Folk and Industrial seen through Dub. As noted before, Carla and Tarquin both released stellar records at this point, but F ingers’ LP is a document of great teamwork, where results are not a heterogeneous mixture but symbiotic and mutant as it gets…
тпсб – Sekundenschlaf (2018)
Maybe an unfairly overlooked album; a thing that could be said for plenty of Blackest Ever Black’s ‘late’ releases, in an era when we still didn’t know that the label’s demise is slowly coming. Despite some prophetic tape titles… Anyway, back to the usual programming, ‘Sekundenschlaf’ is one of those “unclear authorship” records. coming “from somewhere west of Lake Lagoda, near the Russia-Finland border.”
тпсб occupies the anxious waters of 1990s electronic canon such as Techno, Drum-n-Bass and IDM. While that may seem like pretty ‘connected’ sphere and safe playground to get into, it requires a great skill in order to make the combination work in barely thirty minutes of run time, with no proper breathing room to build it organically. Despite the plethora of ideas here, the cohesion is unquestionable. ‘Sekundenschlaf’ almost feels nostalgic in a certain sense, like a post-rave walk home, barely keeping the eyes open because of the sun rays, rethinking the night, remembering things as better than they actually were and having no hard feelings about the fact that you have to get up in a couple of hours… Possibly the Blackest Ever Black’s gift to Warp fans… Sleep deprivation with no regrets…
Silvia Kastel – Air Lows (2018)
If I wanted to be dramatic, as if this article wasn’t already dramatic enough, I could say that this is the Blackest Ever Black’s last great record. It fits where, for better or worse, most of the label’s best work from the middle of the decade had landed – in a grey space between Ambient, Industrial and Dub – a space so easy to dub as post-industrial, but even easier to occupy for the sake of occupying it, rather than to bring something new, recalling the Sande’s theory about difference between engineers and artists.
‘Air Lows’ closes the circle on that sound, somehow perfecting the formula seen on Raime’s original record, never underestimating the fearful power of tension and packing it into a avant-garde pieces of rhythmic indifference. It’s a type of record which could be heard in a library; the one you visit in your hallucinatory nightmares, you steer between different bookshelves but every book you pick up has completely blank page. Still, the answer to all of your questions lays there in them… The giant spider is crawling towards you – the web is set up – the voice on the machine says the library’s closing in ten minutes – what do you do? Suddenly, you don’t remember whether all this was real or just a part of the play…
Jac Berrocal, David Fenech & Vincent Epplay – Ice Exposure (2019)
As noted, a thing that could happen with any label is that if you dig deeper into the catalog, you will probably start to notice certain sonic patterns and some stuff will seem predictable. The trio of Jac Berrocal, David Fenech & Vincent Epplay debuted in 2015 with ‘Antigravity‘ [BLACKESTLP011], positioning themselves as the weird ones and even evoking some (dreaded-term) Lynchian references.
‘Ice Exposure’ is their return to form, with a cold and wide-ranging mix of antisocial jazz, Lost Highway saxophones, non-sequitur prayers, knife-sharp tribal drumming, underworld poetry and art rock – equally influenced by PIL’s chainsaws and BlueBOB’S Industrial Blues – everything and nothing happens for a reason, simultaneously of course, taking place live in some night bar in a parallel universe where, ironically, there’s no music or sound at all…
– Blackest Ever Black visual moodboard
– playlists organized by mood
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Final thoughts & further research
Funnily enough, I started writing this article in August of 2018, ‘eliminating’ records from Blackest Ever Black’s catalog one by one and then after some time, due to getting fed up with it, the project was shelved… Label’s eventual demise inspired me to finally complete it. In the final stage, which took almost two months, I’ve listened to every single thing from their catalog once again, chronologically, in order to make a better context out of it.
I only mentioned twenty-five of my favorite releases here, still, I encourage everyone to use this only as a template and a starting point in their own journey through the label’s history. Despite critical thinking being a necessary skill for a contemporary ‘survival’, I mostly avoided any negative sentiments here; the purpose of the article was and is a celebration of a great legacy, thus the format of choosing the twenty-five best ones rather than describing every single one.
One last Kiran Sande’s quote for the end:
“I think—no, I know—it was Greil Marcus, in one of his frightfully earnest essays about punk, who wrote of music that could change the way a person performs his or her commute, and connect that act to every other, thereby calling the person’s entire way of life into question. I’m not yet immodest enough to suggest that Blackest records do that, not by a long stretch, but that’s the aim, the ambition and it’s the only one that really matters. When I listen to so much contemporary music, not least house and techno, I feel it couldn’t be further from that—it’s cosy, it’s ordered, it’s unsurprising, and it seeks to reassure the listener rather than unsettle or disconcert them…” (Resident Advisor, 2012)
Even though “calling the person’s entire way of life into question” may be a hyperbole, I can say that Blackest Ever Black eventually succeeded in doing just that for dozens and dozens of music listeners, including me. Its unique approach, described in Part One of this article, changed my mindset not only about the music but about the visual work too, as well as preparing me for genres I’ve never thought I’d dive into. Blackest Ever Black may not release any more music, but it doesn’t even have to, its mark is set in stone and its legacy is timeless.
Even further research:
CD-Rs & Mixes:
Raime – You Can’t Hide Your Headcrack [BLACKESTMIX001]
Scripts For The Pageant [BLACKESTMIX002]
The Scold’s Bridle [BLACKESTMIX003]
She Died With Her Eyes Open [BLACKESTCDR003] (same as the one before)
The Disappointment Engine [BLACKESTMIX004]
Dream Theory In Haltemprice [BLACKESTMIX005]
Id Mud [BLACKESTCDR006]
Kiran Sande’s new label: Rose Hobart
*The aforementioned lessons are not meant to be portrayed as the label’s agenda, attitude or stance. They are just my observations correlated with some pre-existing knowledge.
** Media theorist Geert Lovink asserts that blogging is “essentially a nihilist exercise, a digital self-fashioning that actually negates critical engagement, privileging self-promotion over analytical interventions.” Nicolas Carr considers it “a flat noise of opinion – a Socrates’ nightmare.” (Falconer, R., 2015.). While this quote, thanks to social media, can easily be translated to a whole internet, there is a honest intent in this article – it’s conceived in order to champion the legacy of an inspiring label and possibly encourage others to do their own (rewarding) research.
*** All the images used in this article are sourced from Blackest Ever Black’s website and Bandcamp. They are cropped in order to match the site’s visual direction. In case you’re the owner and you’d like the images taken down or changed, let me know here.