Don’t Mess With Cupid, the heavyweight 20th release on seminal imprint трип, sees Nina Kraviz’s extended family out in full force, paying particular homage to ’90s hardcore and techno in a typically wild and obscure fashion.
After the success of 2017s retrospective album Halogen Continues, the late, idiosyncratic talent, Biogen – a giant of the ’90s Icelandic scene (particularly as one half of hardcore breakbeat outfit, Ajax) – returns to трип, with a cut taken from 1999 album Eternalizer. Leading track “Hexagraphic” guides you into essential Biogen territory with overdriven bass notes and skittish percussion of drill ‘n’ bass nature; slightly less “weirdcore” as Biogen may describe, but a jumpy and – dependent on the raver in question – characteristically “un-danceable” number nonetheless.
In a similar vein to their 2017 album on трип A Broken Clock Is Right Twice A Day, Russian duo PTU adopt eccentrically arranged volatile and quirky sound designs in “Castor and Pollux” which, amidst the “untz untz” and acid gulps of more “conventional” sounding techno, adds a touch of vibrancy and originality to the dancefloor. Minimalistic yet rough, Nikita Zabelin’s edit of “Pearl” is a refined gabber workout, utilising one darting analogue line with coarsened, filtered acidity to maximum effect.
According to Kraviz, the B-side opens with one of the defining records behind the label’s inception; a quintessential ’90s techno roller from another prominent Icelandic producer, Exos. Minimal clicks and shuffling percussion meet a ridiculous and raw two-note synth sequence in “Grasshunter”, which somehow embodies techno all in itself. An essential release in the truest sense, and one that many a selector will enjoy possessing a mint copy of once again. The most prolific of the трип camp, and the artist spearheading the new wave of Icelandic electronica, Bjarki delivers a typically inventive and particularly absurd cut, “Tap Lush”. Almost comedic in the first instance, bizarre swirling “ooohs” and “aaahs” reverberate around chopping percussion; an oddity which grows with the track – and by the last transition into a big hi-hat roll – leaves you pleasantly surprised.
Enter “Pitch-Hiker”… another banger from a bygone ’90s hardcore era: Marc Acardipane a.k.a Pilldriver with tough-as-nails, nightmarish techno for the body throwing dancers of this world. Crunching 165 bpm kicks make for pure, unrelenting energy. However, described as “a totally my cup of tea like tune” by Kraviz back in 2016, it is трип debutant Shadowax a.k.a Russian live artist Ishome, who delivers the most exciting cut for …Cupid. Remarkably, a trance-y, hypnotic façade – established over 3 minutes via looping Russian vocals and pulsating basslines – unfurls into frenetic, sparse breakbeats, eventually rattling to a 155 bpm crescendo and snapping into an almighty jungle breakdown, before mutating back to a steady state. “I Want To Be A Stewardess” will either devastate or disillusion dancefloors; precisely why it is such a wonderful ride.
Perhaps the weakest track on the album is the one that is most sought after – a cut from legendary acid techno project Universal Indicator, said to be comprised of both Richard D. James (a.k.a Aphex Twin) and Mike Dred, who many – rather rudely – disregarded in the promotion of …Cupid. Irrespective of comparisons drawn, the demonic synth line and cavernous kicks still make for a wild and unsettling affair. Roma Zuckerman’s “Zero” ambience rises from the depths of those ’90s warehouses, capturing a dazed yet blissful serenity via dubby pads and glitches, evoking the wanderings of a lone raver during the bright morning after.
Somewhat disappointingly, closing out the album in a relatively average fashion are Kraviz’s own trippy excursions, whereby syncopated rhythms and peculiar synths – which usually positively feed into the characteristically obscure and “unfinished” feel to her tracks – feel a touch hum drum. Although, considering the weight of the tracks preceding “Opa”, it is likely that this final cut will have a different bearing on a fresh listener.
A fitting 20th release, …Cupid amalgamates the abstract and functional, timeless and contemporary, in a wild compilation firmly rooted in hardcore – the ’90s quite obviously being a major influence in many трип proceedings. Unsurprisingly, despite creating what has now become a seminal imprint in трип, Nina Kraviz is still unfairly criticised, which I suspect relates somewhat to her gender (you only have to look as far as the comments section for the record’s announcement on RA). For the rest of us in the real world, the impassioned Kraviz can and should be appreciated for crafting brilliantly distinctive concept albums, complete with trippy emotional narratives – see Tombo’s illustrations – both showcasing micro-scenes, and releasing some of the most exciting music in IDM, ambient, hardcore, and techno.