Dave Sumner, AKA Function is irrefutably a mammoth name in the underground techno scene today, this wasn’t always the case however. A New Yorker by birth, he was first drawn to techno at the now infamous Limelight club in New York and he has been involved in making music since the early 90’s, there is no doubt he has paid his dues and plied his trade diligently, initially releasing on his own Infrastructure label and relocating when necessary from New York to Birmingham back New York and then finally out to Berlin. His rise to prominence from those early days was undoubtedly slow, when it happened however it was an overwhelming success. Nowadays he’s more likely to be associated with the techno behemoth that is the Berghain and their Ostgut Ton label, as such his pedigree is not in doubt.
In between this however, he spent time with a label known as Sandwell District. For those who are interested, Sandwell District was much more than a label, it was a collaboration led by four DJ’s and producers; our man Function was joined by L.A. based Silent Servant and two Birmingham boys Regis and Female. As a collective, Sandwell District has had a game-changing and permanent effect on the modern techno scene. For over a decade they managed to remain relevant and innovative, creating a progressive breed of techno that was cleverly grounded in an appreciation for the classical; through this they have had an influence on modern strains of techno that has been profound.
Before Function became their golden boy, much of the label’s sound was championed by Silent Servant, tracks such as ‘Murder Murder’ of off his ‘The Silent Morning EP’ are odes to the intrigue that accompanies any Sandwell District release. The zenith of the label’s success can be found in their 2010 album ‘Feed Forward’. An undeniable classic that must be listened to in its entirety, if you’ve got the time perhaps even in one sitting. It currently goes for a minimum of £180 on Discogs and is a beacon of techno greatness of the highest quality, built on the foundation of the label’s talented and experienced producers, each of whom contribute to the beautiful variety within the album. Choosing one song is nigh on impossible but Falling the Same way stands out as a masterpiece of introspection, underpinned by a delicately crafted percussive sound that somehow manages to glow with eeriness.
Towards the end of 2007, Function began releasing records and EPs on the label that would earn him massive critical acclaim, in doing so he added another layer of variety to the already notorious Sandwell District label and allowed them to truly become ‘the label of the moment’, a title they would hold until they’re disbandment in 2012. His first release ‘Isolation’ was an instant hit and was named DJ Mag’s techno record of the month, the B side ‘Isotope’ absolutely bangs, the A side ‘Reykjavik’ is an outright classic. Function’s sound on the label is characterized by unrelenting baselines that provide a menacing undertone, each track crafted to the highest degree of professionalism with enough flavour and dynamism to keep you thoroughly engaged. The list of people he worked with during his time with the label, from Marcel Dettmann to Ben Klock, reads like a who’s who of techno legends and the bevvy of quality tracks he released is endless; ‘Disaffected’, ‘Variance (Function Reduced edit)’ and ‘Descending’ are all phenomenal, with ‘Disaffected’ checking in as a genuine belter.
Towards the end of 2008, Silent Servant released his ‘Violencia’ record along with two remixes, one by Kalon and the second by Function. The release came in the middle of Sandwell District’s success, it was a collaboration between two of the label’s biggest names but more importantly a collaboration between two of techno’s most imaginative producers. The result is a masterfully reworked track that outshines the source material, it begs for an after-hours setting, once the hedonistic madness of the night is over, in a time where the right song can have a profound and lasting effect. At times the baseline roles through with frenzy inducing capabilities and yet it never quite commits to this identity, instead there is an uneven choppiness within its production that never allows you to settle, keeping you ever so slightly on edge, forcing a constant re-adjustment of expectations. The beauty of it however, lies in the fact that this does not represent the zenith of Sandwell District’s releases, instead it is another one of the countless gems that this label was able to produce.
The staying power of Sandwell District as one of techno’s finest innovators was a remarkable achievement, their lasting impact however, is far more telling. The label’s influence can be seen in releases from artists such as Truss right through to Function’s next UK booking where he’ll headline an event at which some of Lobster Theremin’s finest make up the undercard. Lobster Theremin are one of the hottest tickets in the UK techno scene at the moment, and yet whether it is acknowledged or not, they like so many others are indebted to the work put in by Sandwell District, indebted to their creative acumen, and like the rest of us thankful for their progressive brilliance.