Essential albums: The 7th Plain (Luke Slater)

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 dance on your feet, it doesn’t matter; this is deep and imaginative electronica from an era of wide-eyed exploration in ambient dance music.

artist:
The 7th Plain (Luke Slater)

country of origin:
UK

style(s):
IDM, ambient techno

decades active:
90's

essential releases:

  • My Wise Yellow Rug (1994, GPR)
  • The 4 Cornered Room (1994, GPR)
  • Chronicles I (2016, A-Ton)
  • Chronicles II (2018, A-Ton)
  • Chronicles III (2018, A-Ton)
  • Chronicles collection/box set (2018, A-Ton)

Reviewed by Mike G

The 7th Plain is an early and much-revered alias of techno auteur Luke Slater. It was under this short-lived banner that he made outstanding contributions to the earliest, ambient-ish form of British techno known variously as IDM, ambient or listening techno, popularised in the early to mid 90’s by the Sheffield-based Warp Records and its Artificial Intelligence series. Although Slater never recorded for Warp, his 7th Plain output fits comfortably enough in that world and the best of it stands among the very finest ambient dance music of the 90's.

Finally revisiting and re-releasing the material in the late 2010's, he said in an interview with Fabric London: "I’ve always seen my music as The 7th Plain as love songs with a lot of melancholy...listening now, I've got a lot of love for the tracks. They’re a product of a certain time, way of thinking, new technology, and a different world...I’m not sure if I would be able to write the songs again, or even get that sound again, and I like that."

There were only two original 7th Plain albums released, plus a handful of singles and EP's, all of them on now-defunct UK label GPR. Both of the albums are must-hears. The debut long player My Wise Yellow Rug (1994) is a glorious collection of contemplative future tech, offering plenty of gorgeous, panoramic down-to-midtempo gems (“Boundaries”, “Excalibur’s Radar”, "Sender of Humane Visions") alongside a few excursions in spacey percussive abstraction ("Rise and Bewize", "The Boys Toy Drum").  The 4 Cornered Room (1994) is of a similar standard, perhaps a tad more polished and cohesive as an album, and with a higher average BPM that makes it more dancefloor friendly. "Time Melts" is the epitome of beautiful bleep, capturing the era's optimism in eight perfect minutes. "Lost" aches with its Detroit techno lineage but recasts it in that uniquely early British techno way, doused in dreaminess despite the frantic tempo and clattering beats.

A third and rather different 7th Plain album - the messy, vocal-heavy, trip-hop leaning Playing With Fools (1996) - was also completed but just a handful of vinyl test pressings were distributed before GPR infamously crashed and ceased trading. Many of the artists then found themselves trapped in legal limbo due to bad contracts that tied them to what was now a dead record label, and GPR's refusal to release its artists effectively ended the recording career of the talented Beaumont Hannant among others. Fast-forward 20 years, however, and the appearance of the first 7th Plain retrospective Chronicles I (2016) showed that Slater had at some point escaped the quagmire and acquired the rights to his sound recordings. Two more volumes followed, and then all three were collected on the mammoth digital and vinyl box set Chronicles (2018).

With the original releases long unavailable to stream or buy new, Chronicles is the easiest entry point for 7th Plain newcomers. It features a fairly representative sampling of previously released material and some unreleased cuts from Slater’s personal archive, and nearly all of it is lovingly remastered from the original tapes. There is nothing from the unreleased third album, which in the Fabric London interview he declared is now "buried", though whether that's for personal reasons or legal ones he doesn't say. Still, despite some surprising omissions, Chronicles proves to be an invaluable artifact. Some 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 dance on your feet, it doesn’t matter; this is deep and imaginative electronica from an era of wide-eyed exploration in ambient dance music.

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