The term ‘underground hero’ is something of an overused cliché in music journalism, yet in this case it can probably be forgiven. Instead of embracing the hype that has surrounded his name during his 14 year career, Tommy Vicari Jnr has a reputation for keeping his head down, avoiding the limelight and focusing on making and releasing tracks that are distinctly his very own. As an obsessive and prolific producer, with his own unique style, Tommy is one of few artists around who still maintains what could be described as a ‘cult’ underground following. While he has had his fair share of big well-known club tracks, arguably too few recognize his importance as a multi-label owner, a dedicated supporter of underground talent and the man behind a fairly substantial list of production aliases and groups with a consistently high quality of output.
With a fairly sparse yet impressive catalogue of past releases, much of his music is unfortunately hard to own; underground vinyl gems that were snapped up long ago and now carry weighty price tags. But the last 18 months have seen that all change. Suddenly, every few months there seems to be a new release from Tommy and his associates going straight on the wish list. Recent 12” releases on 320KB, Eclipser Chaser, Cartulis Music, his ‘Sheffield EP’, plus a couple of great EP’s with long time collaborator Gunnar Viggosson as 76-79 constitute a serious growth in his official discography.
He’s about to top it all off by releasing his new 8 track double EP ‘Hiding In Plain Sight’ which is a great reflection of Tommy’s ethos as a producer: variety, imagination and creativity, taking inspiration from techno and house, and countries like Russia and Italy, and always making it his own. ‘Hiding In Plain Sight’ promises to be as essential as it gets once its drops. His production as always succeeds in being fun and danceable but with enough intelligence and pure weirdness to consistently demand the full attention of the dancer.
This is all just as true for the new compilation album AB50 from his label Armadillo Brand. Operating almost entirely through bandcamp, selling tracks for £1 a hit and releasing music at a blistering pace, Armadillo Brand is a great example of an independent label that does not seek to appeal the vinyl collectors market. Releasing the kind of imaginative and varied house and techno that we’ve come to expect from Tommy and his associates, after only a year the label marked a landmark 50th release with a compilation of 50 brand new tracks from the AB regulars.
As you’d expect there is a lot of variety over the 50 tracks. Ever present are those unexpected little elements that grab the attention of the listener. AB productions seem to be made up of apparently disparate influences brought together to surprisingly good effect. Many of the highlights come from Tommy’s own productions, often via aliases Czevski, Vibration White Finger and Iraciv. Czevski’s ’82 for example is a great example of the kind of creative and imaginative club music AB has released so far. Melancholic strings compliment an abrasive, acid style bassline to great effect. Tobeover is a big, pumping, hat heavy house track with a rough, ravey overdriven synth lead. Iraciv provides the most out there, chaotic, off beat, yet club ready track on the album with C U Do.
Other less know producers really shine on the compilation as well though. Julia Gallows provides two great tracks. ‘Reformat U’ is a lovely bit of heartbroken synth led techno, while ‘Pretend You Didn’t Hear That’ is one of the highlights of the album. Brilliantly intricate drum programming layered under a collection of interesting noises that make up the main synth line. Elsewhere, Gibsby comes through with a brilliantly crafted, dubby minimal house track ‘Brevity’. Esk shows finesse on two funky and upbeat house tracks ‘Fenene’ and ‘Virtual.’ All guaranteed memorable club moments.
There really are too many great tracks to go through in detail, so here’s a list of our favourites off the album, you can hear the tracks and support the artist on bandcamp.
Christopher Paisley – 0.5
Christopher Paisley – Never – The Plaintiff Remix
Czevski – ’82
Dj Cream – Different Mood
Esk – Fenene
Esk – Virtual
Gibsby – Brevity
Iraciv – C u do
Julia Gallows – Reformat U
Julia Gallows – Pretend You Didn’t Hear That
Jackie – What I Said
Jerome Thomas – Search and Find
The Plaintiff – Ds
The Plaintiff – Petticoaterx
Tommy Vicari Jnr – Tobeover
Velasco – 905
AB recently made their first vinyl release, the single sided Czevski – Wishes, a great bit of big boned yet hypnotic house music. Also brand new on Armadillo Brand is the Czevski LP, which you can listen to below. The 10 tracks on the LP a less polished, DIY feel than the ‘Hiding In Plain Sight’ EP but a similar scope in terms of imagination and variety. Although vinyl has its merits, a DIY digital label like Armadillo Brand is a great platform for prolific producers because it allows them to release loads of music at a fast pace, uninhibited by the difficulties and costs of vinyl.
There’s even more good news for those frustrated at the high second hand price of some of his records. Cabinet have repressed 57 Hertz by 76-79 with a Vibration White Finger remix on the B side. Keep an eye out for a brand new release on YAY recordings which should be announced very soon…
Hopefully this influx means we will be hearing a lot more of Tommy’s music played out soon. The last year has shown us that Tommy does not rely on having an elusive and sought after discography to get the kind of cult support he has earned.