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Various Artists - Don’t Mess With Cupid, ‘Cause Cupid Ain’t Stupid Music Album Reviews

A compilation from Nina Kraviz’ трип label connects the dots between leftfield techno, acid, and breakneck hardcore, forging an adventurous style evocative of warehouse raves in deepest Siberia.

Like Warp Records, Factory, and even Motown before it, Nina Kraviz’ трип (Trip) has the three defining characteristics of a great record label: a distinct but ever-evolving sound, a staunch core of artists, and a particular geographic base, with most of трип’s music coming from Russia and Iceland. Most importantly, трип, though still in its infancy, has forged its own internal logic. If you wondered what links the glacial IDM of Biogen with the industrial hardcore of Marc Acardipane, or the oddball techno of PTU with the acidic attack of Aphex Twin’s Universal Indicator project, then the answer is трип itself, the label providing the contextual thread that binds these disparate elements together.

Acardipane, aka German hardcore pioneer Marc Trauner, is the notable newcomer to the трип stable on this release. His contribution, a slice of 165-BPM dark hardcore, is merely rugged rather than nosebleed extreme, but his presence on Don’t Mess With Cupid enforces the idea that трип is a label operating at electronic music’s fringes. It also, alongside the appearance of a vintage Richard D. James tune, suggests that the curatorial scope of the compilation, rather than the top-down sweep of the artist album, is where трип’s unruly aesthetic truly thrives.

Much like Kraviz’ audacious DJ sets, what unites the 10 tracks on Don’t Mess is not so much genre or BPM but a certain feel: an adventurous menace and steely electronic funk, doused in the kind of chilling atmospheres that raise images of freezing Siberian plains and Icelandic perma-dark. This thematic cohesion means that the frantic acid techno of “15 c7”—a raw, nervous dancefloor track originally found on Universal Indicator’s Red album, released on Rephlex back in 1993—sits snugly alongside the mechanical ambience of Roma Zuckerman’s “Zero,” which leads elegantly into the harsh rhythmic whirl of Kraviz’ “Opa.” You could, at a push, call all three tracks “techno,” but this techno remains true to the pioneering spirit of the genre’s American originators without getting trapped in slavish devotion to their sound. A very European take on the genre, it leans on the classical precision of Kraftwerk more than warm Detroit nights.

This spirit of adventure is best found in the compilation’s highlights—Bjarki’s “3-1 tap lush,” Shadowax’s “I want to be a stewardess,” and PTU’s “Castor and Pollux”—which bend techno’s electronic futurism into fascinating new shapes. “3-1 tap lush,” a staple of Kraviz’ DJ sets, is both delightfully twisted and strangely gentle, resting on an undulating and unnerving vocal sample that sounds like a child discovering silly mouth noises while exploring the echoing of an abandoned hospital. PTU take a similarly impudent approach: “Castor and Pollux” continues the pick-and-mix approach the Russian duo pioneered on 2017’s A Broken Clock Is Right Twice a Day, throwing grandiose, arcane noises against a juddering techno beat and seeing what sticks. “I want to be a stewardess” is even more unlikely, combining cinder-block techno thump, clipped Russian-language vocal, and a twisted jungle break into a blood-boilingly exciting, shape-shifting whole that cascades up and down the octave while ratcheting up the metallic intensity.

Against such invention, the rather square 4/4 thump of Exos’ “Grasshunter” and Nikita Zabelin’s edit of DEKA’s “Pearl” are too straight-laced for comfort, while Pilldriver’s “Pitch-Hiker” feels a little tame for an artist revered as a wizard of the dark hardcore arts. But odd individual moments never threaten to derail a magnificent album of join-the-dots adventurism and pointed thematic elegance. All of трип’s releases have been brilliant over the last year, but the label’s spirit really shines on compilations like this one, offering a reminder that curation itself can be an act of creation when done with this degree of taste and vision.

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