Sandwell District seeped into the techno world like smoke under a door, with a grip of deliberately oblique and undeniably compelling releases. Its dub poetics were some unholy fusion of post-punk's and dub techno's alternately grim and sublime atmospheres, all laid out over Cartesian drum-machine grids. Now technically defunct, the collective has splintered productively into its constituent parts, with marquee releases like Silent Servant's Negative Fascination and Function's Incubation elaborating different facets of the former unit. With the these affiliates' solo careers continuing to pick up speed, a Fabric mix is not the most expected epilogue to Sandwell District's unexpected moment. But needless to say, for the legions pining for another immersion in the aesthetic, Fabric 69 is a worthy companion to the crew's 2010 full-length opus, Feed-Forward. The tracks selected for the mix cut a familiar figure—from Fiedel's Berghain techno to Factory Floor's London squalor—while the mixing allows gaps and pregnant pauses to intervene when things get predictable.
For the purposes of this mix, the Sandwell District collective is boiled down to core members Function and Regis. The differences between the two—their respective strengths as DJs and the sounds they're focused on as producers—are well calibrated, creating an ebb and flow. The mix travels in controlled orbit between experimental music poured into the techno mold and techno destabilized by experimental tendencies. Function is something of a classicist, but one whose enthusiasm for bread-and-butter sounds adds new dimensions to even the most familiar sources. (One could assume the inclusion of Plastikman's "Plasticine" and Carl Craig's "Darkness" are his, and it is telling that their appearances make up two of the mix's most memorable moments.) Regis' more avant-garde leanings make the peaks and valleys pop; one might imagine him as the guy ferrying listeners over Styxes of locked grooves as well as the one delivering them into the hellish melee when peak time arrives.
However the labor is divided in reality, the mix stands out because of this mixing style, which builds up only to coast gracefully back to square one. On average, commercial mixes and podcasts build momentum through a few obvious things that signify consistency. Fabric 69 is all about momentum, too, just on a level that's less than strictly literal; at any given point, these two are in the process of going somewhere or going to pieces, and each direction is just as interesting to follow. When they drop something like "Mark Ernestus Meets BBC," they take a track that's perfectly fine on its own and imbue it with a sense of purpose that comes close to epiphany; it feels more like they're conjuring the skeletal punch of the drum machine and chunks of delay-wrenched synth from the ether than it does two guys merely putting a needle on vinyl. And it all transpires between Function's own "Voiceprint" and the drum-machine bacchanalia of "Voiceprint (Reprise)"—a reminder that the connections made within are integral to Sandwell District's aesthetic, but are far from the whole story.