In Death’s Dream Kingdom (Houndstooth)

In Death’s Dream Kingdom is a voyage into the unknown for Houndstooth and all the artists on it.

It represents a complete rethink about what it means to compile and commission music in the streaming era – and the tracks and seductively dark atmospheres conjured as a result are exploring all kinds of new sonic territory, too. In short, the cream of leftfield electronic talent have been given a brief: to take the phrase “in Death’s dream kingdom”, or the whole of TS Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men from which it comes, as inspiration. The resulting 25 tracks will be released, one by one, together with further online texts, and extraordinary artwork by Jazz Szu-Ying Chen, to build into a new kind of audio-visual artefact. Not an album in the traditional sense, certainly more than just a playlist, it brings together a seriously diverse array of talents into a coherent whole with a vivid aesthetic reverberating through it. It occupies a similar space to the great home listening electronica acts of the 90s – Future Sound Of London, Global Communication, the Artificial Intelligence axis – but there are no throwbacks here: this is radical in sound and thought. Dark music for dark times.

It’s a well-deserved chance for the label to flex its creative muscles. Just over a year ago, and only three years into its existence, fabric’s offshoot label Houndstooth was staring death in the face. The closure of the fabric club would have meant the end for the increasingly exciting Houndstooth. Thankfully, not least because of the grassroots support of fabric’s clubbers and the people who buy and stream the labels’ music, it survived – and Houndstooth came back with redoubled determination to push boundaries. 2017 has seen albums on the label by label stalwarts Call Super, Special Request, Guy Andrews, Second Storey and Throwing Snow, all of which have ended up in the upper reaches of critics’ favourite lists for the year. Not only that, but the collective subconscious seems to be catching up with Houndstooth’s aesthetic as film and TV sound design and soundtracking start to dig into the same strange spaces. Now they are expanding the label’s remit massively, to bring in a huge range of artists who they admire and who share the label’s commitment to testing boundaries.

The two Robs who run Houndstooth know a thing or two about compiling and curating the underground. Rob Butterworth has been with the fabric label since 2005 and headed it up since 2013, helping the London club’s two mix CD series fabric and FABRICLIVE tick steadily towards 100 editions apiece. At a time when online culture means mixes are ten a penny, fabric has managed to maintain the specialness of its releases, often providing definitive statements by DJs or producers. Rob Booth, meanwhile, was headhunted by fabric on the basis of his work since 2007 on his Electronic Explorations site, and his work for Mary Anne Hobbs, who remains a close friend and regular musical confidant. Most recently the pair were responsible for pulling together the vast 111-track #savefabric compilation, a key part of the effort to raise consciousness and money for the campaign to keep the club and labels alive.

The approach in building IDDK certainly echoes Electronic Explorations’s sustained building of an aesthetic free from the pressures of club scene divisions and dancefloor-filling; and while it’s not as sprawling as #savefabric, that gargantuan effort helped give them the confidence to think beyond the confines of a standard compilation. In this context, artists from the far corners of the art, noise and ambient avant-garde like Abul Mogard, Pan Daijing and Roly Porter can sit alongside club and bass producers like Hodge, Batu and Peder Mannerfelt and genre evaders like Gazelle Twin, Pye Corner Audio and rising star of the leftfield Lanark Artefax yet the whole thing maintains absolute coherence. Meanwhile, Jazz Szu-Ying Chen – a Rotterdam-based Taiwanese artist who has exhibited worldwide, including wall and window art in Chelsea & Westminster Hospital alongside Brian Eno’s lightbox works – has created a stunning visual identity inspired by the same text that amplifies and enriches the emotional and intellectual intensity of the music. It may be a “post-album” project, but IDDK has set out a new blueprint for a virtual artwork that can be loved and treasured just as a favourite album would be.

01 – Otto Lindholm – Cain
02 – Pan Daijing – The Island Within
03 – Lanark Artefax – Styx
04 – Petit Singe – Komm Wieder Mit
05 – Peder Mannerfelt – Post Sense Perspective
06 – Tomoko Sauvage – In Some Brighter Sphere
07 – Pye Corner Audio – Box In A Box
08 – Sophia Loizou – Shadows Of Futurity
09 – Abul Mogard – Trembling With Tenderness
10 – Pär Grindvik – Speaking Their Minds
11 – Koenraad Ecker – Rat’s Coat
12 – Roly Porter – Without Form
13 – Hodge – Sunlight On A Broken Column
14 – Gazelle Twin – The Dream Ends
15 – Shapednoise – Ghostly Metafiction
16 – ASC – Tessellate
17 – Batu – Zoo Hypothesis
18 – We Will Fail – Carbon Trail
19 – Peter Van Hoesen – 98 Lines
20 – Spatial – Haunted Dance Hall
21 – Yves De Mey – Solemn But Fading
22 – Mindspan – Accept Things As They Are
23 – Kangding Ray – Glacier
24 – ZOV ZOV – Post Six
25 – Ian William Craig – An End Of Rooms