Marc Houle ‘Restore’ (M-nus)

A-list remixers undertake a makeover of Houle’s minimal classic ‘Restore’ – and it ain’t minimal no more

Like his mentor Richie Hawtin, Marc Houle was born on the other side of the river. In Ontario, in other words, crossing the water to Detroit to soak up the sine waves of techno’s second generation in the mid-90s. Encouraged by Detroit-born DJ Magda, Houle went from promoting a night at Hawtin’s Windsor club, 13 Below, to making his own tunes, and in short order all three – Hawtin, Houle and Magda – had set up the M-nus label.

M-nus, of course, was a home (maybe even the home) to minimal techno, a millennial sub-genre that quickly moved from the power of Robert Hood’s stripped-back vision and the dark artistry of early M-nus to a precious, styled-out parody of itself. In the few years between came some great records, though, and Houle’s ‘Restore’ album was one of them. Broody and atmospheric, it’s only the lack of low-end, as well as that infernal drum sound (like someone flicking the lid of a tube of Pringles) that date it. They do, however, really date it.

Meanwhile, in 2011, Magda, Houle and Troy Pierce left M-nus to form the quirky, experimental Items & Things label. Talk of exploring a fuller, more melodic sound implied a sense of being constrained by the aesthetic of their former home, but if there were any hard feelings from Hawtin then none were aired. Indeed, this revisit to Houle’s ‘Restore’, each track remixed by a different artist, is a M-nus release. And it’s certainly more “full” and “melodic” than anything you’d readily associate with Hawtin’s label.

So out goes the Pringles lid tapping and in comes the bass. Plus, in many instances, a big-room sensibility. Monkey Safari’s rework of ‘Pepper’ takes the original (a rather by-numbers bit of minimal hiss) and teases out plangent chords that make it an epic yet low-key masterpiece. Remixing ‘Borrowed Gear’, one of the tracks least affected by the passage of time and a favourite of the Pet Shop Boys no less, Joris Voorn boosts the low frequencies as well as the melody, turning it into something of a peak-time monster.

Monoloc dubs up ‘Sheep’, while the ‘Danny Daze Doom Dub Remix’ of ‘Talk To Me Baby’ opts for a darker, more abstract sound. In the main, however, the remixers aim straight for the dancefloor, picking out previously underused melody and adding much-needed oomph. Popof’s take on ‘Late For Work’ and M.A.N.D.Y’s opening re-rub of ‘Business’ being cases in point, both morphing into chunky tech-housers in the interim.

Overall, the results are strong. It’s a much more enjoyably future-proof album than its parent and if a lack of stylistic risk prevents it from marching into greatness, well, it is a M-nus record. Baby steps and all that.

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