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Ben Sims - Smoke & Mirrors


Ben Sims would be practically techno royalty if he was just a DJ, but his contribution to the global techno scene as label boss, promoter, producer, and remixer puts him firmly into the top drawer. So it makes it all the more notable that Smoke & Mirrors is Sims’ first album. What’s perhaps not surprising is the musical content: banging big-room techno with a couple of marginally less relentless numbers.

Given that, you probably know whether you’re going to like this album already, but in case you have stumbled across this review from a link from Gardener’s World magazine (we can but hope) a “good” way to look at Smoke & Mirrors is as a taxonomy of a certain kind of harder-edged techno. There’s techno dubbus (the title track, and the FX-abusing “The Calling”), techno boshus (“The Snake”), techno discos (dated filter disco track “Can You Feel It”) and, er, techno nostradamus (the presciently-named “Riots In London”, stomping but not as aggressive as you might think).

The tracks that work best for me are the ones tinged with more than a hint of machine funk. There’s probably not many producers can get Tyree Cooper (“I Feel It Deep”) and Blake Baxter (“I Wanna Go Back”) feature spots on their debut, and the resulting cuts are fantastic: dark, heavy, and chugging with just the right mix of old-school Chicago. “I Wanna Go Back” is particularly strong, as a minimal sax line weaves around a propulsive groove, luckily totally transcending the cliched “lyrics” which, even for techno, sound particularly phoned-in. I think I get it Blake - you want to me to “work my body” yeah?

Other highlights are “The Afterparty” is a cracking slice of loopy, warped tunnel vision, and “Bullet - a driving analogue acid beast that was apparently recorded live and which, not to put too fine a point on it, absolutely smashes the living shit out of it. Grrr.

So, Sims sure knows his onions and I’m sure most of these bangers will all work a floor of shaven-headed teeth-clenching techno stereotypes, but the main criticism you could level at this album (aside from that filter disco abomination) is that it’s not only all been done before, it’s basically all been done before by Ben Sims himself. There’s hardly any experimentation, hardly anything that makes you look up from a default head-down position and say “WTF?” (seriously, if you do ever say “WTF?” out loud please cut your tongue out. Then kill yourself). That’s not a problem - there will always be a place in my cold dead heart for non-nonsense functional techno - but consider yourself warned. 

Sam Stagg

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