Most label compilations are blessed and cursed
by the same phenomenon. Maybe they seem a good idea at the
time – i.e. a showcase for all the artists that make up the
roster. Yet who are these collections really for? Rarely does
a band give away its strongest material. Let's be honest, compilation
tracks tend to be outtakes, mixes, covers, or alternative versions.
If I was being cynical, I could say, for "alternative" read "inferior".
To fans then. And how often do listeners love an entire label?
It happens, certainly. Labels like Kranky and WARP stand for
a certain excellence as did Factory and 4AD in the 80s. The
answer, of course, depends on the label in question, but as
a general rule a label is either genre-specialist, or an eclectic
mixture of artists unlikely to appeal to any one person except
the label head who signed them. As such the generic collection
might suffer from a lack of variety and quality, while the melting
pot collection might prove too scattershot to hit any given
So do either of these worthy releases buck the trend? AlexTronic
offer some variety. Perhaps because they are still such a young
label, these cuts suffer somewhat from an inherent anonymity.
My own route into AlexTronic was through the band Keser,
who amazed me more than once on their debut, Esoteric
Hardly a household name though, Keser, and their track here, Horus
Lives, is…. you've guessed it, an outtake from that album.
The rest though is pretty interesting once you give it a chance.
AlexTronic believe in electronic artists. Having said that,
the range on display here is commendable. Most of these artists
use electronic media to dabble in other genres altogether.
With dashes of dub, reggae, and rap the whole collection has
a very urban feel and you tend to forget this is the work of
a new, young, Scottish electronic label. The vibe is chilled.
Think Massive Attack,
and you'll get an idea of the quality of acts like Strangest
Thing and AsA. At other times (eg Pockets of Resistance and
Kosmos Kollective) the music has a soundtrack feel.
n5MD fire off their compilation (double CD, no less) as a
fiftieth release celebration. This label has a mission which
borders on manifesto. Emotional experimentation is the name
of the game here. So you'll either discover brooding landscapes
(Last Days, Tobias
Lilja), chilled downtempo (Loess, Near the
Paranthesis, Arc Lab) or top-drawer electro-shoegaze (Lights
Out Asia, Bitcrush).
At two discs this is pretty exhaustive stuff. If you know n5MD or any of its artists already, then One Five Zero is as safe a bet as you'll find. I can pretty much guarantee there will be artists that leave you unmoved, while others come out of nowhere to leave you stunned. I experienced it myself being, as I was, totally unprepared for the staggering Never by Keef Baker. It was only the second track in!
When you reach the end of disc one though, my word, pack a change of underwear. Tobias Lilja's version of My Teacher Died is the bonus track, and it is deliriously good. This is at once sublime, ridiculous, and all points in-between. Lilja has one of those voices loaded with portent and suffering. So to pop up like a diva on the glammed up, sequencer-fuelled My Teacher is akin to hearing Ian Curtis skip through Dancing Queen. On paper, it must seem absurd. On record, it is pure rapture.
Remixes, covers and outtakes - there goes my theory. n5MD and to some extent
AlexTronic have both pulled it off. I can't say that these records will bring
new fans, but existing aficionados will certainly find something to cherish.