Oliver Lieb

Oliver Lieb was particularly influential via the first wave of European club trance that emerged in the 1990's, the melodic and more accessible cousin of techno...and the distinctive futuristic, techy quality of his trance productions also carries over into his downtempo and ambient albums, relatively few in number but exceptionally high in quality.

artist:
Oliver Lieb

country of origin:
Germany

style(s):
Techno, trance, ambient, breaks

decades active:
90's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Constellation (1993, Recycle Or Die/Solieb Digital)
  • Music To Films [with Dr. Atmo] (1994, Fax Records)
  • Inside Voices (2014, Psychonavigation)

as LSG:

  • Into Deep (1999, Superstition)
  • Best Of LSG: The Singles Reworked (2004, Supersition)
  • The Unreleased Album (2002/2013, Solieb Digital)

Reviewed by Mike G

Though by no means a conventional dance music celebrity, Oliver Lieb has earned his place as one of the greats of the techno and trance age, releasing electronic music under both his own name and many pseudonyms including LSG, Spicelab, Paragliders and The Ambush.

He is gifted, original and largely uncompromising. A 2004 profile in Australian e-zine In The Mix said thus:

"He frequently appears in lists of producers respected by peers right across the spectrum of Electronica, across the globe...yet he still remains an unknown quantity to the average punter; possibly due to his refusal to be pinned down to a single style or pseudonym, or not taking the sell-out route of many of his contemporaries and trading painstaking pad and percussion programming for ad nauseam repetition of presets."

Oliver Lieb was particularly influential via the first wave of European club trance that emerged in the 1990's, the melodic and more accessible cousin of techno. As an exponent of the popular Frankfurt trance sound his name - as either composer, producer or remixer - was stamped on huge number of club records that came out of Germany for a time, many of them from the now-defunct Harthouse label. On the club trance front, his signature tune will probably always be the spellbinding LSG anthem "Netherworld". It's a perfect marriage of his trademark cosmic textures, techy sounds and celestial melodies with the pumping energy of the dance floor.

The distinctive futuristic, techy quality of his trance productions also carries over into his downtempo albums, relatively few in number but exceptionally high in quality.

Early ambient works

Constellation (1993) was his first ambient album release. The title certainly makes explicit the deep space and sci-fi themes but the music itself is sophisticated and understated. The fourteen minute "Dimension X" is an absolutely gorgeous cosmic hymn with exquisitely layered melodic loops in the best Berlin-school ambient tradition and executed with a feather-soft touch. This stunningly accomplished track alone makes the album worth having.

The superb Music To Films (1994) is a cosmic mixture of ambient trance, robotic minimalism and panoramic melodies based on an unusual concept. Lieb and collaborator Dr Atmo conceived it as an "alternative soundtrack" to the wordless documentary film Koyaanisqatsi which was originally scored by Philip Glass. Despite its outstanding quality, Music To Films was never re-released after its initial small run and it quickly became one of the label's rarest CD releases. According to Dr Atmo in a 2013 interview for the blog NMLK, Fax Records owner Pete Namlook was to blame. "Mixmaster Morris called the Music to Films idea a '$1 million dollar project'. This made Pete very jealous. I knew that a few licensing requests were not answered for that album. Sad but true."

The LSG downbeat trilogy

The next three albums listed above are all released under his LSG pseudonym, which up until the late 90's had been squarely focussed on high velocity tech-trance and techno. The sublimely mysterious Into Deep (1999) takes LSG into downtempo territory for the first time and it's an outstanding success. It's very different and more beat-based than Constellation and Music To Films, existing more in the realm of downtempo breakbeat. A measured mix of slow percussive patterns, distorted female vocal bytes and gorgeous deep space chords, its sci-fi tinged compositions are consistently impressive.

Five years separate Into Deep and the stylistically similar The Singles Reworked (2004), in between which occurred a significant shift in the European and UK dance scene and in Oliver Lieb's personal views on club trance, a genre he helped create. By the end of the 90's the overt commercialism of much Eurotrance signaled the genre's rapid creative decline, its credibility in tatters in underground club circles. Lieb was quoted in at least one interview as saying it was over - creatively - and had to finish. The baton passed to a new school of Dutch DJ's and producers who cranked up the cheese factor to new levels of Disneyland-bombast and commercial stupidity. True progressive trance went back underground to be championed in the following decades by the psytrance scene and by DJ's like John 00 Fleming. Lieb's own club productions, meanwhile, wound back on melody to various degrees, while as a DJ his sets of dark, sometimes brutal and atonal techno seemed to underline the fact that this chapter in dance music history was now closed.

What's interesting is that the wide-eyed wonder and spacey melodies of yore continued to find an outlet through his downtempo music. The Singles Reworked is a masterstroke, completely fulfilling its potential as a downbeat remix album of earlier LSG club classics like "Netherworld", "Hearts" and "Risin". Like Into Deep, the album traverses the chilled side of his tech-trance sound and, again, the arrangements are relatively sparse compared to the ultra-lush (and often good) ambient trance remixes of the period by UK artists like Michael Woods or Solar Stone. The melodies are still layered, the sound still cosmic, but it's a leaner, more experimental sound than his contemporaries, forged with more original machinery and programming. All nine tracks segue together as an episodic but unbroken mix that flows with grace, beauty and perfect logic.

Rounding out the LSG downtempo trilogy is The Unreleased Album (2002/2013). Recorded in 2002 and then shelved due a distribution issue, it finally received an official release in 2013 after much pestering by friends and fans. The Unreleased Album is a spiritual cousin of Into Deep and The Singles Reworked and displays the same level of creativity and musicality. It's a stunning listen: complex, beautiful, melodic and alien. Lieb gives free reign to his innovations in texture, syncopation and harmonic progression, all while somehow keeping it accessible. There's eight untitled tracks in all, the last of which brings the album to a rousing climax of frantic breakbeats and a sparkling, pinging melody.

Ambient renaissance

A rekindled interest in Lieb's downtempo and ambient work sparked by the release of LSG's Unreleased Album led to the appearance of Inside Voices (2014), his first fresh excursion into the chillout zone in more than a decade.

Ten years is a long time, especially in the fast-changing word of dance music and its chilled-out offspring. What would the album sound like? The answer is stellar - literally. Inside Voices is the spaciest album he's ever made. Colossal walls of solar wind, several light years across, swirl and slowly coalesce into brilliantly simple arpeggios and deep space chords. Soft percussive loops and deep bass pulses hold it together for a time, before it all dissipates and then coalesces again in a different form. There are some echoes of Pete Namlook and early Fax Records - as noted by a number of other reviewers - but the strongest voice here is Lieb's own: cosmic and cool, uncompromising yet melodic and accessible to anyone with a modest amount of patience. It avoids crude recycling of ambient techno's past but also steers clear of more recent musical dead-ends like digital glitch. Call it spacemusic for the techno generation if you like; to the composer I imagine it's just electronic music - his way.

Dance music

If your keen to check out the best of his excursions in dancefloor trance try the LSG albums Rendezvous In Outer Space (1995) and LSG Volume 2 (1996). His darker club techno appears on LSG's The Black Album (1998) as well as some of the tracks recorded under his Spicelab pseudonym. For a superb example of exotic tribal electronica look for his one-off, self-titled debut album as The Ambush (1994).

Following a long break, Lieb re-emerged in 2011 as a DJ and producer of cerebral techno and tech-house under his own name - as well as the occasional LSG retro show - which found him a fresh following in the new century among underground clubbers and producers.

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