In 2002 Sandwell District commenced operations. Over the course of ten active years, they were responsible for disarming and destabilizing the structures that gagged free-form expression, drawing upon tenets of DIY-post-punk culture to disrupt accepted ideas of exactly what it meant to be an artist, label, DJ or producer. During this time, the collective’s core members, Regis and Function (along with label partner, Silent Servant), played a key role in broadening the link between early electronic, post-punk, and noise; an influence which continues to resonate in the burgeoning, and shape-shifting, modern-day techno scene.
Both Function (Dave Sumner) and Regis’ (Karl O’Connor) investment in techno stretches back more than 20 years. Alongside fellow art terrorist Peter Sutton (Female), Regis has spearheaded the cult label Downwards since 1993 and has released an impenetrably deep discography dating back just as far. Function started to produce music during the mid-90s, releasing on Damon Wild's Synewave and his own Infrastructure imprint. A chance meeting in New York in 1996 quickly lead to the two collaborating under the guise, Portion Reform. Continuing to work together over the years, Sumner then moved to Berlin in late 2007 and they, along with LA based member Silent Servant (John Mendez), put their energy into developing Sandwell. In 2010, they released their debut album, Feed-Forward, an endeavour which represented the first full exploration of the Sandwell District sound.
At the beginning of 2012, intuitively aware that the end was nigh, Sandwell District (the label) was put on permanent hiatus though the possibility "of future, albeit irregular print communications with audio accompaniment" was never ruled out. This mix will be the first thing to be committed to record by them since that time. As for any details of future activity, as Regis puts it himself, “If you want to give the Gods a laugh, talk about future plans.”
"I outlined some sections/tracks that I thought might work with his, I sent him rough 10 minute drafts for him to listen to and try and work into the main flow. The final mixdown was done by Dave, as he had gone over the whole mix hundreds of times fine tuning the detail, it made sense for him to execute the mix proper." Regis
The opening three tracks serve as an introduction to the dissolved identities of the triumvirate behind the Sandwell shroud as their originals and edits layer over in an eerie aural collage of shuddering ambiance and brittle percussion. The mix slowly ramps up track by track as we’re guided through the experimental noise of Boyd Rice back-to-back with Raime then snapped into the skittering percussion and post-punk mumbles of Regis’ edit of Ike Yard’s “Loss.” Mary Velo’s “Detune” ups the ante as swathes of sinister beats and decimated stabs rattle around JPLS’s “Basis” before lunging slowly into “Wedge” by Rrose which cloaks “Syväys” by Ø. Function’s “Modifier,” takes us down the rabbit hole once more before the malevolent, swirling euphoria of Carl Craig’s “Darkness” washes over it and on into Markus Suckut’s cavernous “Hunt.”
The sludgy atmospherics of Samuel Kerridge’s “Waiting For Love Part 1” bleed into Untold’s “Motion the Dance” before the unsettling noise-fuelled dissonance of Surgeon’s “As You Breathe Here Now” pulls back into Hardwax boss/ Basic Channel legend, Mark Ernestus’ “Mark Ernestus Meets BBC.” Plastikman’s Plasticine provides an early-morning acid injection before going for the jugular on the murky bass throb of Trevino’s “Uptight” and back into Regis’ VCMG remix from the very start of the mix. The final furlong of the mix draws in Factory Floor, James Ruskin, SS/S, Laurent Garnier before circumnavigating its way back to Function’s “Voiceprint” - an atmospheric coda which echoes the opening sequence, providing a refined symmetry to the whole ordeal.
With this mix, another genuine artefact has been added to the Sandwell legacy, a document of their skewed presence and existence, a treasure guaranteeing the kind of quality that electronic music compilations rarely achieve. In 1 hour 15 minutes, the pairing of Regis and Function succeed in presenting and executing some of the most potent flourishes in the Sandwell catalogue, distilling them into a coherent body of work that masterfully defines the current techno zeitgeist. Few contemporary producers have bettered the merciless techno blueprint laid down by this collective, and few ever will.
Words by David Browne