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Artists: It’s Been Hell: 20 Years of Lo Recordings (Lo Recordings)

remember the first time I heard stuff on Lo Recordings, the oddball
UK label that traverses such a variety of enfant terrible sounds that
it’s hard to categorize. It was their Fresh Fruit compilation, a
budget collection that included many of whom were at the time new
signings: Hairy Butter, Richard Thomas, Kid606, Cursor Miner, Rothko,
Ceephax, Max Tundra, and more. Now that it’s over 15 years later, and
20 since Lo was founded, what have they been up to? If the selection
herein is any indication, they’re just as eclectic as ever. The front
end of the disc consists of originals from the likes of Slack Dog,
Hairy Butter, Hatchback, Cursor Miner, The Chap, Grimes, and more.
It’s more so this collection of tracks that represents Lo’s storied
past, starting with a Luke Vibert production as part of the Slack Dog
ensemble, which included, among others, label founder Jon Tye. Its
skittering breaks and upright bass, combined with incidental spoken
samples, definitely feels like 1995 when it was released, but that
seems entirely appropriate since it was Lo’s very first release. Next
up is “Office Tart,” a raucous mess from Hairy Butter, the
collaborative project of Richard Thomas and Jon Tye. Jamois &
Chant’s “Talma” appears plucked from Lo’s Collaborations Vol. 2
collection, released in 1996. It’s a sparse, skronky downtempo jazz
track, a dramatic contrast to the summery lite IDM of Hatchback’s
“Midnight Jogger,” the leading track from Lo’s Milky Disco 2:
Let’s Go Freak Out
collection released in ‘09. Two of Lo’s flagship
and cheekiest acts of the last many years, Cursor Miner and The Chap,
appear side by side here, and they are in a way two sides of the same
coin. Each one of them has a sense of humor and wit about it that
feels distinctly British (and, by extension, Lo’s ethos), and “Sport
of Kings” showcases the electro-tinged pop that they’re so good at,
taken from their 2004 album Plays God. The Chap’s “We Work In Bars”
is painfully earnest and tongue-in-cheek at once, a sing-song chorus
about, well, you get the idea. I have a hard time with
self-consciously clever songwriting at times, like the joke somehow
undermines the music, but that has admittedly more to do with me than
The Chap.  Beyond that, there are a couple more melodic tracks from
NZCA Lines and Grimes (though her “Heartbeats” is limited to the
CD pressing, sadly) that are well worth an earful before diving into
the second half of the collection which is all remixes.

Its Been Hell: 20 Years of Lo Recordings (Lo144) by Various Artists

Most of the
mixes take on the style and sound of the remixer more than the
original artist, which makes for a more varied bunch in contrast to
what otherwise might have felt like a retread of some of the label’s
roster. Aphex Twin’s remix of The Mike Flowers Pops is a classic,
though fans of Aphex Twin probably have heard that one a fair amount,
already recaptured on Aphex Twin’s excellent remix redux from 2003.
But the rest of the bunch were scattered over assorted Lo releases
and enjoy a welcome revisit here, such as Plastician’s brusque take
on Jean-Jacques Perrey and Luke Vibert’s “Moog Acid” (2006), Hot
Chip’s decidedly understated take on The Chap’s “Woop Woop”
(2007), and Squarepusher’s crusty reshape of his collaboration with
Richard Thomas. “Plate Core” (2000). Fans of the sunnier side of
Boards of Canada and like-minded downtempo IDM will enjoy Hatchback’s
radiant remix of Dark Captain’s “Questions” and Ulrich Schnauss’s
reworking of Zoon Van Snook’s “The Gaits” (2013), while Black
Devil Disco Club offers up one of his most lovably cheesy remixes,
“To Ardent,” featuring a lead vocal by Nancy Sinatra and remixed
by Grosvenor (originally on the 2011 Circus album). The remixes
suggest a slightly cleaner vision of Lo’s stable, lacking the rougher
around the edges unpredictability of a label project like Hairy
Butter or Twisted Science, by contrast. But It’s Been Hell Vol. 1 is
as good an entry point as any into Lo Recordings’ widely varied and
interesting discography, with something for truly just about anybody.
Well worth a listen as both an overview and as a starting point,
providing insight into Lo’s unique point of view as a label.

Buy it: Lo Bandcamp