Album review: GoGo Penguin – ‘GGP/RMX’: deus ex Mancunia as the jazz trio take the remixes album to new heights

The Breakdown

GGP/RMX comprises eleven tracks ranging from stellar dancefloor bangers through to neo-classical and old-skool ambient chillout - and especially points in between, where musical tectonic plates shift and abrade and subduct with delightful and beguiling results. If you love the places where modern dance and electronica begins to take on other colours and ripple into something quite otherly, you really should invest in this album. It's a brilliant state-of-the-art showcase.

THE EXCELLENT, leftfield Mancunian trio GoGo Penguin, who work out in the truly creative zones where dancefloor and intelligence and jazz bump into each other, decided they could be lifelong friends, are all set to release a really exciting remixes album, GGP/RMX, for Blue Note in May.

They’ve been creating their particular forward-forging meshing of jazz, contemporary melodic thought and electronics for a decade now – yep, it’s been ten years since pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner debuted for the lovely Gondwana imprint with Fanfares, which apt and confident titling seems entirely appropriate. You only have to listen to “Last Words”, the second track from Fanfares; which, while wholly being jazz, also fans out into modern piano composition and drum and bass simultaneously without ever losing its GGP signature.

That open embrace of other textures has meant a remixes album was surely gonna happen one day; the trio aren’t the sort of band who shy away from new blends and other directions, after all. But you also knew that any such offering would be considered, eclectic, beautifully curated. As it should be.

Last year saw the release of their excellent and eponymous fifth album, and the time perhaps finally seemed right for that remixes project, always an alluring concept that had never found its moment, to take flight.

And so the trio offered out that long player to an absolutely top banana assemblage of inventive producers, including (deep breath) Squarepusher, Clark, James Holden, Nathan Fake, Graham Massey, Portico Quartet, Cornelius and more. And it’s that roster that should really excite. As with GoGo Penguin themselves, the crew they’ve picked for this voyage are themselves thoughtful, at places in their respective particular musics at which they themselves are looking outward, knowing that creativity and progression come from reaching out and melding disparate forms. There’s mixes from legends of the dancefloor and newer hands with burgeoning reputations – Graham Massey and Machinedrum, respectively; scions of the proper leftfield, such as Cornelius and Squarepusher, Yosi Horikawa; more blissful exponents of the sonic craft, such as erstwhile Gondwana label mates Portico Quartet and James Holden.

And the degree of thought in that selection of reinventors makes this a mouthwatering prospect; it makes me cast my mind back to such greats as DJ Food’s sprawling Refried Food collection, Cinematic Orchestra’s Remixes 98 – 2000; even the twin To Believe 12″s from that same outfit last year.

Every track from GoGo Penguin is offered up for a rerub, with “F Major Pixie” getting two very different filtrations and representations; there’s even room for “Petit_A”, originally the Japanese issue-only bonus track which eventually saw the light of day worldwide on the digital Live From Studio 2 EP. Come on; let’s get stuck in.

GoGoPenguin, photographed by Jon Shard and remixed by Chris Illingworth

It’s cult Japanese icon Cornelius who gets the honour of cutting the tape on GGP/RMX, which he does with aplomb on the bright and clean, shimmering skyscraper futurism of “Kora”. There’s a real home-territory feel to the central motif which, despite being synth, has the taut, plucked grace of a koto; stir in some warm electronic wash and loping, live drums and it’s music to have on the cans while being wowed on some metro system perigrination of a central cityscape. Maybe the DLR through Canada Wharf, for example. Bright, optimistic and clever, it sets the tone for what’s to follow.

North Carolina’s Machinedrum has called Ninja Tune home for a good half-decade or more now, should you need the kitemark of quality; and his deeply dancefloor-oriented retake on “Atomised” was the album-announcing single drop. You’re absolutely contractually obliged for shape-throwing on this one; play this at GGP’s home city’s The Ritz and watch that sprung dancefloor bounce seismically, as Machinedrum takes it and absolutely belts it out into the high-energy electro stratosphere as a six-minute odyssey centred on Chris Illingworth’s piano motif.

Yosi Horikawa is a Japanese soundscaper who uses field recordings of the natural world as his basic sound palette; and his retooling of “Embers” is full of glitch and microphone hum that gradually flowers as an impressionistic and very Japanese slice of ambient elegance, the woody hum of the double bass sending shivers, and the piano becoming a impressionist painting; Mancunian jazz as reimagined for 2am innerspace.

The first person to get a bite at “F Major Pixie” is Berlin-by-way-of-Paris producer Rone, who brings the delicious sonic cleanliness of his adopted city to a remix with one foot in old-skool synth melody and texture, and another in a more modern shimmer. It’s reflective and heavy on the rising piano, which swells to bring muscle and an epic trancey edge, in tandem with a real bone-deep thrill of bass tone; breaks down, re-emerges as a double-time piano glorying in its bed of low thrum and monumental breaks.

The second bite of that particular pixie cherry goes to Chelmsford’s finest, Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, who really gets his polyrhythmic teeth into it. If you’re familiar with Squarepusher’s work you’ll know he’s about to wipe the floor with you, gloriously. Take a listen below; we’ve embedded it for you. What begins in a trilling jazz guitar motif – it’s too quiet, right; where is he? – soon picks up that trademark Tom Jenkinson bass fluidity and some eerie synth wash; more melodic flourishes make it a much spacier thing. You’ll think it’s a relatively respectful, blissful take, but that sense of security is entirely lulling as the track gradually layers into hyperactive polyrhythm, jungle breaks, alien generative static … and back out again. Phew. It can only be Squarepusher.

As you repack your cerebellum, the controls are handed to Nathan Fake, who sieves “Open” into a total scorcher of fiery electronics, moody melody and pumped breaks that would probably prick up Lee Ranaldo and Steve Albini’s ears. No respite for you, my friend – at least not until he releases the pressure and lets the middle break spiral out in acid arpeggio, before the flames lick around the track once more and it pans and shimmers and generally disorients you, breaking down with the clack and echo of a Monolake 12″, before ceasing abruptly.

Mancunian acid legend Graham Massey brings the reputational weight of 808 State to bear on “Signal In The Noise”, a festival of ringing percussion and machine pulsing in which Nick Blacka’ original bass is accreted with synthetic fuzz, as if degraded in transmission through deep space, mournful brass and a whole ecosystem of glittering tones making for a complex kaleidoscope of sound.

GGP’s Nick Blacka says of James Holden’s remix of “Totem”, another that we’ve embedded for you below: “James creates a beautiful, reflective soundscape for this track. We love it when another artist takes your music and hears something in it and a way of interpreting it that you wouldn’t necessarily have heard yourself. ‘Totem’ is a great example of this because it’s pretty far from the original track’s intensity but the spirit of the original remains intact.” 

James himself adds: “I loved the piano chords that make the core of this song and knew instantly that I wanted to try to make them into a giant monolith – austerely restating their circular melody while my synth dances around them.” You know, this is a beautiful meshing of aesthetics; James bringing his trademark scented exoticism to swirl and garland around the chordal core of the original, sending it off into expansive bliss. It’s as old-skool ambient as you’d wish and need.

From the Mancunian legend of two tracks ago to the Mancunian new breed, it’s the genre-liquifying Shunya who takes “To The Nth” out for a spin, bringing to bear his immersion in the worlds of jazz, electronica and modern classical for a miniature odyssey, beginning by sounding like a release on ECM, all strings and caressed guitar, it subsumes into a many-stranded drone texture before breaking into rolling, open electronica with strings playing an unusual swoop of melody; and gradually becomes a more wired, lo-fi exercise in future percussion that whirrs off the dial in conclusion. It’s a track that requires a lot of exploration as ideas fizz and whirl at speed.

Having left his home of 16 years, Warp, for a full, recent debut at Deutsche Grammophon, Clark can be no stranger to those who like their electronica edgy and cyborg-futurist; and he brings his pedigree to that formerly Japanese-only track, “Petit_a”, lending it brooding dystopian qualities; he allows the piano motif a stay of execution – but only if it, and the bass, allow themselves to be stripped of any flesh-and-blood qualities, and come back welded and chopped into glitch, adrift in orbit around a distant moon. Some of the sound textures are lip-curlingly excellent, stark, seductive in a surrender to the new order of things way.

Finally, wide-screen minimalists and former Gondwana stablemates Portico Quartet take a bow, fashioning “Don’t Go” into a gentle comedown of iterating arpeggio, layering and layering into a modern compositional dapple of light and shade, a sombre prettiness at its heart. And so we close.

Good things come to he (and she) who waits; and that GoGo Penguin have bided their time before taking the plunge has proved its own reward. They’ve assembled a really well-chosen cast of remixers who in turn have fashioned a brilliantly intelligent album; 11 tracks ranging from stellar dancefloor bangers through to neo-classical and old-skool ambient chillout – and especially points in between, where musical tectonic plates shift and abrade and subduct with delightful and beguiling results. If you love the places where modern dance and electronica begins to take on other colours and ripple into something quite otherly, you really should invest in this album. It’s a brilliant state-of-the-art showcase.

GoGo Penguin’s GGP/RMX will be released by Blue Note digitally, on CD and on vinyl on May 7th; pre-orders are being taken now.

Connect with GoGo Penguin at their website and on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. 

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