Monday, November 10, 2008

Take this Mule for a ride

For the last few months I’ve been particularly enjoying Terre Thaemlitz’s full-length debut under his DJ Sprinkles moniker, Midtown 120 Blues, released on the Japanese label Mule Musiq. It’s an exquisite album of lush deep house, underscored by a note of melancholy, as Thaemlitz directly addresses the current revival/reappropriation of the deep house sound and the decontextualizing/eraser-like nature of this revival. (Scroll down to the bottom of the album page I linked to above to see Terre’s thoughts on the matter. They’re well worth reading.) However, it’d be unfair of me to rave any more about the album at this point – although it was released here in Japan in August, the rest of the world won’t get to hear it until January 26, 2009. Expect to hear more from me about the album closer to the date. (PC adds: you *can* however purchase the album and anything else from Terre's back catalog immediately, via his website. Here's the link directly to the ordering page)

What I can talk about right now though is the Mule label, which over the last few years has become a label well worth keeping an eye on. Based in Tokyo, Mule has been releasing music since the end of 2004 across three branches: Mule Musiq, Mule Electronic, and Endless Flight. Home to a stable of excellent local acts such as Kuniyuki/Koss, Dublee, and Code E, and attracting international names such as Lawrence, Thomas Fehlmann, DJ Koze, and Theo Parrish, Mule’s releases move across a number of sounds, including deep house, dub, ambient, and the more melodic end of minimal techno. The label also serves as the main point of contact in Japan for Kompakt and its affiliates, with Mule often bringing over Michael Mayer, Tobias Thomas, Lawrence, and Koze for its club events.

There have been some real gems released on Mule, so I’d like to shine a light on a few of them for you. In 2006 the label proved itself quite prescient in regards to the current deep house revival by releasing ‘You? Again?’, a compilation of ten Terre Thaemlitz tracks originally released on his Comatonse label in the late 1990s and early 2000s that were out of print and extremely hard to find (some of the original EPs were limited to only 100 copies outside of Japan). It’s the Mule release I find myself reaching for the most – deep house that’s lush, warm, and comforting with traces of sadness and some seriously good grooves. As well as making this music available to a wider audience, ‘You? Again?’ brought renewed attention to Thaemlitz, a producer who’s been doing fascinating stuff since the early 1990s (check here for an excellent in-depth interview fellow ssg Pete did with Terre). I’d also urge listeners to check out the ‘Terre’s Neu Wuss Fusion/She’s Hard’ remixes EP, featuring a gorgeous 12-minute ambient remix by Thaemlitz on the A-side, and an absolutely kicking remix by Max Mohr on the B-side.

Lawrence fans are strongly advised to pick up last year’s ‘Lowlights From The Past And Future’ CD, along with the ‘Friday’s Child’ and ‘Rabbit Tube’ EPs. The Lowlights CD is a collection of some of Lawrence’s vinyl-only highlights along with a few unreleased tracks, including ‘Spark’ (from the 2004 EP of the same name on Ghostly), ‘Further’ and ‘Lowlights From The Past’ (from the Mule ‘Lowlights’ EP), and his amazing remix of Superpitcher’s ‘Happiness’ (which, quite frankly, was the best thing to come out of the whole ‘Here Comes Love’ debacle, but the less said about that the better). This is classic Lawrence – gorgeous, gentle, and romantic.

Optimo’s incredibly eclectic yet coherent DJ sets have always gone over well with myself and the rest of the mmnl ssg crew – listening to these guys is always something of a musical education, as they trace connections between tracks and sounds I would never have previously considered. Of their mix CDs ‘Walkabout’ (on the Endless Flight sub-label) is one of their best, kicking off with the proto-techno of Throbbing Gristle and some early experiments from Pan Sonic and Wolfgang Voigt’s Grungerman project before moving into some brain-melting minimal from Thomas Brinkmann, Shane Berry, and Marc Houle, while taking detours through New York legends Suicide and the drone-metal of Japanese band Boris. As is to be expected from Optimo it’s quite a walkabout indeed, and one well worth taking.

As I mentioned earlier Mule is home to a number of excellent Japanese acts, such as Code E and Dublee. My personal pick of the litter, however, is the prolific Kuniyuki Takahashi, who records under the names Kuniyuki, Koss, and (with pianist Saiko Tsukamoto) Saikoss, moving easily between ambient, deep house (with a touch of jazz), and minimal sounds. Not long ago Pete said some very positive things about the Koss album ’Four Worlds Converge As One’, praise which I’ll echo here – for ambient fans it’s strongly recommended, particularly the opening 29-minute track. Those who enjoy their ambience with a classical touch should check out ’Kossaiko’, with Takahashi adding electronic treatments, washes, and the occasional downtempo beat to Saiko Tsukamoto’s introspective piano pieces – perfect home listening material right now as the Northern Hemisphere heads into winter. (Anybody who wants to check out Takahashi’s diverse sound palette right now can stream a live set from his website recorded earlier this year, or download it from here.)

As well as the upcoming international release of the DJ Sprinkles album (finally!), the next few months will see several remixes of Minilogue’s IMPS project, featuring the talents of Jan Jelinek, Isolee, and Move D, and the release of a mix CD from Stefan Goldmann, which Philip Sherburne recently described as “the most satisfying mix CD I’ve heard this year.” So if you haven’t already, Mule is most definitely a label you should consider taking for a ride.

You can check out quite a few Mule tracks over at their Myspace pages, here and here. Mule has also released a few retrospectives (such as this one and this one), which are pretty good entry points for those new to the label.


  1. excellent write up cam. for some reason, j-land has never quite had the amount of producers and labels you'd expect. hopefully mule is a sign of things to come. and kuniyuki's liveset is strongly recommended.

  2. certainly a great label. one of those where i can just buy the record and know i'm getting something quality.

    i really liked the IMPS album put out over the summer, though i've seen next to no reaction to it, either positive or negative.

  3. I'm just hearing this DJ Sprinkles album now. It's a real shame this is Japan only right now because it's absolutely gorgeous and needs to be heard. Holy crap. Thanks for shining a light on it.

  4. What's become of their club events Cameron? Have not been since Yellow that time, and obviously that's no more. Have they made the move to Unit?

  5. @ Jeff: Yeah, looks like the Mule parties are back at Unit. There's one on the 21st of this month, with live sets from Minilogue and Koss:

    @ Steve: Yeah, I'm not sure why Mule holds back on international releases for so long (there's also a four-month gap between the Japanese and international release of the latest Koss album "Ancient Rain"). I guess it's nice that Japanese peeps (and myself) get first dibs on the albums, but I'm not sure that does the label any good in the long run ...

    @ Minimill: Yeah, I didn't see the IMPS album getting much coverage ... perhaps people just didn't realize it was a Minilogue project? (I know this seems kinda silly, but stranger things have happened.)

    @ Chris: Yeah, it's funny isn't it? The only other Japanese label that immediately springs to mind is Op.disc:

  6. Important note:

    You *can* purchase the DJ Sprinkles album (and all of Terre's back catalog) directly from his website, which is

    Shipping is free!

  7. love the kuniyuki album, All These Things. especially "Dear African Sky," an epic song. also some of Terre's house material, the stuff with a Chicago shuffle feel to it. hard to believe he used to be releasing ambient music on Instinct back in the day.

  8. Mule is awesome. Haven't heard this Walkabout mix CD though, better check it out.

  9. Excellent piece. I love the Mule imprints, I'm listeng to Koss - Earth this very minute.

  10. @ PC: Thanks for noting that!

    @ Kuri: Yeah, Terre's certainly had a wide and varied output, hasn't he? Definitely one of the most interesting (and fiercely intellectual) figures in contemporary electronic music.

    @ Yuri: Yeah, Mule have very quietly (and quickly) become a really solid label. "Walkabout" is a good mix CD ... actually, anything by Optimo is worth checking out.

    @ Joe H: I *really* love Water, the opening track. But that whole album's great.

  11. that optimo disc looks the goods, why haven't I heard of these guys before


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