I can’t believe it. I feel so old now. This was the label that got me into electronic music all of those years ago… So, to celebrate their (belated) 20th birthday, I’ll share my favorite releases from their vast discography.
1– Amorphous Androgynous – Tales of Ehpidrina – 1993
The first release on the label, and an impressive one at that! Here’s a side project from FSOL that marked the transition from their more ambient house phase and their experimental ambient phase. It is safe to say this release was highly influential in the world of electronic music. Classic. This became a quick favorite of mine and still gets loads of replays. (Our review for this release is here!)
2– Irresistible Force – Global Chillage – 1995
A prime piece of ambient that seems to go unnoticed. This is full of longform tracks and sweet, blissful spaced out jams. This is great both on vinyl and CD. Brilliant. (Our review for this release is here!)
3– Aquarhythms – Greetings From Deepest America
A groovy little album compiling some original tech house tracks and remixes from artists that include Rabbit in the Moon, Morgan Geist, Deep Dish and Carl Craig. This is fairly underrated, as far as techno albums go, in my opinion. Great stuff. (Our review for this is here!)
4– Fluke – Risotto
This album is an essential mixture of hard hitting techno/rock and easy grooves. Killer singles from this include “Absurd” and “Atom Bomb.” Fans of Fluke will love it as will fans of trip hop, electro rock, big beat and leftfield. Superb!
5– Cassius – 1999
French house at its finest. This was my first real introduction to it and I remember having mixed feelings about it at the time, mostly because this was so “new” to me. There are some highly infectious tunes on this release that made this an instant classic in my eyes. My personal favorites include: “Cassius 99,” “Le Mouche,” “Foxxy,” “Somebody” and “Planetz.”
6 — FSOL – Lifeforms
The groundbreaking ambient 2xCD, heralded as essential to this very day. To put it simply, upon playing this album, my life was changed forever. This is so imaginative and inspiring and it clearly changed the face of ambient music forever. (Check out our review for this here!)
7 — FSOL – ISDN
FSOL continue their game changing and genre bending parade with this live-from-their-studio-via-ISDN-broadcast album. Again, this was a real mind blowing album, remapping where ambient was going and smashing all previous ideas of the genre. Essential. (Our review for this is here!)
8 — The Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole
This is credited as one of the most essential ‘dance’ albums of all time. The Chemical Brothers shatter genres with each album they create, making new and innovative tunes that keep you thinking but also keep you moving. This was my first taste of the duo’s discography and I was thrilled to get a copy right as it came out; it was rare to find techno in general where I was living at the time. This remains my personal favorite to this day with “Surrender” at a close second.
9– Source Direct – Exorcise the Demons
I think this was the second drum’n’bass album I got my paws on, second to Photek’s “Solaris” at the time. I was very impressed with this album. Yes, it had some minimal elements but the dark and edgy beats kept me engaged. Plus, this was driving music for me on four hour road trips to the Maryland coast at the time. Good times.
10– Joi – One and One is One
I was eager to get my paws on this when it came out but I never found a copy. I managed to get the band’s third LP first and it wasn’t until years later that I found this used in a bin at the record shop. I love this! It’s a groovy mixture of Indian instruments and western dance elements, riding along the lines of Indian Ropemen and others. This album just makes me happy. Classic.
11– The Beta Band – s/e
Ah, dude, The Beta Band. Catchy songwriting, groovy instrumentation and by God, “Broken Up a Ding Dong” is my favorite track from them period…. Next to maybe “To You Alone,” but that’s for another review. This is a MUST have.
12– Excursions Into Ambience – The Fourth Frontier
I love the entire series but this volume here is my personal favorite. It features some rare tracks by the likes of Node, Ben Neil, FSOL (as Far-Out Son of Lung) and System 7 (as 777), amongst others. The album itself, while a compilation, makes for a solid play-through, giving us one hell of a trip.It certainly makes me wish that Astralwerks would pick up the series for at least a volume five installment to take us once more into uncharted territory. (Check out our review for it here!).
13– µ-Ziq – Royal Astronomy
This was my first release from Mike Paradinas, long before I realized he had started his own label and before I really found any earlier releases from this project. This release hopped around between deep space beats, wildly powerful synth oriented tracks, experimental drum’n’bass tracks and playful house type tunes. One of my favorite tracks of all time, “Autumn Acid,” can be found here. Fun stuff.
14– Sunna – One Minute Science
The depth of this album shouldn’t be overshadowed by the semi-success enjoyed by two of its tracks that found their way onto a few soundtracks. The rest of this LP had some lyrical genius and instrumental power that caught me off guard when I bought it around the time it was released. I remember it was being marketed by the radio stations as some sort of “nu metal” album but with the vast amount of acoustic tracks and surprisingly potent lyrics, this was something much more than that. I love this album to this day.
15– Rarewerks – Vol. 1
As a long time follower of the label, I flipped when I found out this was coming out way back when. I mean, rare Cassius, Photek, FSOL, Air, Q-burns Abstract Message, Primal Scream, Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx and the Beta Band all on ONE disc with a new Scanty Sandwich tune? You really could not ask for better than that! And it was SO worth it!
16—Royksopp – Melody AM
Even though this band went on to have a lot of very successful albums and singles, their debut album remains my favorite. They expertly sampled and diced “Blue On Blue” into a work of perfection that became “So Easy,” weaved sweet vocals into the haunting track, “Sparks,” and made us dance with the classic “Poor Leno.” No hype, no fuss, just perfect cuts.
17—Fatboy Slim – You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
This one should go without saying. Following up on the success of his debut album, this record put big beat techno into the homes of almost everyone. This became one of the best-selling techno albums of all time, with nearly every track becoming a single. This album was fun, inventive, catchy, naughty, resourceful and timeless. This solidified in my mind what the perfect sample-based dance record should sound like.
18—Spacetime Continuum – Sea Biscuit
Jonah Sharp was already becoming a well-known figure in the ambient house ‘scene’ and this album really put him on the map. This ambient gem is so well crafted that it even found itself a home on Pete Namlook’s FAX label. Flawless and essential!
19—Kings of Convenience – Quiet is the new Loud
Part of the “Norwegian invasion,” this folky album quickly found a place in my hearts. I especially fell in love with the track “Toxic Girl.” Brilliant songwriting and wonderful production.
20—Kraftwerk – Tour de France Soundtracks
If reissuing the single wasn’t enough, the band came back together and gave us this thrilling new album and Astralwerks brought it stateside. Those robotic voices will forever be in my head! Thanks!
LP Honorable Mentions:
Soul Oddity – Tone Capsule
Primal Scream – XTRMTR
Photek – Risc vs. Reward
Massive Attack vs. Mad Professor – No Protection
Tranquility Bass – Let The Freak Flag Fly
Gearwhore – Drive
Boymerang – Balance of the Force
Bentley Rhythm Ace – s/e
Wagon Christ – Tally Ho!
Low – Owl Remix Low
Les Rythmes Digitales – Darkdancer
(various) – Werks Like a 12”
AIR – The Virgin Suicides OST
Clinton – Disco and the Halfway to Discontent
µ-Ziq Vs The Auteurs – s/e
Beth Orton – The Other Side of Daybreak
AIR w/ Baricco – City Reading
Innerzone Orchestra – Programmed
(various)– My House in Montmartre
The Chemical Brothers – Surrender
My Favorite Astralwerks Singles / EPs:
Basement Jaxx – Red Alert
µ-Ziq – Brace Yourself
Scanty Sandwich – This One
Kraftwerk – Expo 2000
Gabin – Doo Uap Doo Uap Doo Uap
FSOL – Lifeforms Paths
FSOL – We Have Explosive
Steve Fisk – Express God
The Micronauts — The Jag (yes, it was on Science but on Astralwerks samplers)
The Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin’ Beats
The Chemical Brothers – Loops of Fury
Ben Neill – Sistrum
Drain – Regional Action!
Photek – Terminus
Photek – The Third Sequence / Titan
Uberzone – Bounce
Fatboy Slim – Bird of Prey (Sunset)
Air – Playground Love
Joi – Asian Viibes
Skylab – Exotica