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The Black Dog

One of the most influential English electronic groups of all time, Sheffield's the Black Dog played an indispensable role in establishing techno as home listening, as opposed to music created strictly for dance clubs. First surfacing in 1989 with a series of self-released EPs, their work was heavily influenced by Detroit techno and electro, but their inclusion of complex, often breakbeat-heavy rhythms and playful melodies set them apart from the rest of the electronic scene. They received their greatest exposure through several releases on Warp, including the classic albums Bytes and Spanners, as well as their association with Björk, for whom they remixed a few songs. After two of the founding members split in order to concentrate on their own group, Plaid, founding member Ken Downie continued the Black Dog as a solo project, surfacing with several remixes as well as an album with French poet Black Sifichi titled Unsavoury Products. Since 2005, the Black Dog's lineup has included Dust Science co-founders Martin and Richard Dust, and the group's prolific output has focused on darker, more politically conscious techno and ambient. Taking their name from a British euphemism for imminent doom, the Black Dog formed in the late '80s as the trio of Ken Downie, Ed Handley, and Andy Turner. Forging a challenging, relentless combination of early techno, electro, and hip-hop with a penchant for odd time signatures, high-tech atmospherics, and Egyptian iconography, the group immediately distinguished itself from the scores of disposable techno musicians covering familiar ground in the post-rave U.K. Something of a closet phenomenon attracting the devotion of DJs who nonetheless refused to play their complicated brew for fear of being booed off the decks, the Black Dog were immediately placed in the emerging "intelligent techno" category upon the release of their full-length debut, Bytes. A largely U.K.-media constituted phrase meant to peg music involving dance music compositional styles nonetheless intended for home listening, the term took hold and was often applied to artists like Autechre, Aphex Twin, µ-Ziq, and As One. As Plaid, Ed Handley and Andy Turner had already released a handful of material (including an album) prior to meeting Downie, but their time spent in BDP was their most productive up to that point. In addition to the Dog's inclusion on the perhaps more high-profile Artificial Intelligence compilations on Warp and remixes for the likes of Björk, Blondie, UNKLE, and Ned's Atomic Dustbin, they also released several full-length works as a group before Handley and Turner defected in 1995 to refocus on Plaid full-time. The pair released an EP on the Clear label in mid-1995, and issued their second full-length, Not for Threes, two years later on Warp. Downie continued with the Black Dog name, releasing the full-length Music for Adverts (And Short Films) in 1996. In 2002, Downie collaborated with Parisian spoken word artist Black Sifichi on the William S. Burroughs tribute Unsavoury Products, and the Downie/Sifichi pairing was given the remix treatment on the following year's Genetically Modified. Downie resurfaced in 2005 with Martin and Richard Dust, releasing the strong albums Silenced (2005), Radio Scarecrow (2008), Further Vexations (2009), and Music for Real Airports (2010) -- a pointed response to Brian Eno's Music for Airports, designed to "reinforce the false utopia and fake idealism of air travel." Liber Dogma (2011), and Tranklements (2013), and Neither/Neither (2015) followed closely behind. During this period of heavy activity, there was a handful of compilations, including the early-years anthology Book of Dogma, as well as the later short-format collections Thee Singles and Thee Singles II. In early 2018, the Black Dog released Shards ov Light, their ambient soundtrack to Forgemasters, the final film by the late photographer Shaun Bloodworth. The group released two full-lengths in May: the beat-heavy Post-Truth and the more ambient Black Daisy Wheel, both of which reflected on the political and social climate. Another full-length, Fragments, arrived in November 2020.
© Sean Cooper & Paul Simpson /TiVo
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