Best Albums of 2019: The 7th Plain ‘Chronicles’

Chronicles (A-Ton, triple album set)

The 7th Plain is an early and much-revered alias of techno auteur Luke Slater, his contribution to the earliest, ambient-ish form of British techno known variously as IDM or just listening techno, a style popularised in the mid 90’s by Warp Records’ Artificial Intelligence series.

That Chronicles even exists at all – a rich and diverse three-volume retrospective released 2016-18 and collected here in a single set – is something of a miracle, because all 7th Plain material was originally released on UK techno label GPR. This was a musically significant but decidedly dodgy enterprise that collapsed in late 1996, entombing many of its young artists’ recordings (and some of the artists too – see my story on Beaumont Hannant) due to diabolical rights clauses in artist contracts. Yet here we are, with Slater now obviously in control of his material and German label A-Ton doing the re-release honours. For many IDM fans, this is a momentous event.

Chronicles features a fairly accurate sampling of tracks from the two original 7th Plain albums and string of e.p’s released 1993-95, plus some unreleased cuts from Slater’s personal archive. Nearly everything has been mastered direct from the original quarter-inch and DAT tapes, so purists will be pleased, and the vinyl version comes with an excellent essay by music journalist Joe Muggs. Beautiful, panoramic downtempo gems (“Boundaries”, “Excalibur’s Radar”) sit alongside among dreamy midtempo cruisers (“Surface Bound”) and percussive, squelchy Detroit-style numbers (“Time Melts”, “JDC”). 25 years later there’s still a strikingly futuristic, otherworldly tinge to 7th Plain material and an unerring sense of groove in the rhythms. Dance in your mind or on your feet, it doesn’t matter; this is deep and imaginative electronica from an era of wide-eyed exploration in ambient dance music.

Fans will note there is nothing here from The 7th Plain’s unreleased third album Playing With Fools (1996) – a casualty of GPR’s demise – and in a recent interview he was unequivocal that it’s dead and buried. If you want to check out the original releases, try the second album The 4 Cornered Room (1994), a firm fan favorite that includes some outstanding music not featured here.

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