For electronic music enthusiasts, especially the techno-inclined, R&S Records is one of those “it” labels. Founded in Ghent, Belgium in 1984 by couple Renaat Vandepapeliere and Sabine Maes, R&S boasts releases from titans in the scene such as Aphex Twin, Derrick May, Joey Beltram, James Blake, and many more. Vandepapeliere shut the label shut down in 2000, but it re-launched 2008.
Earlier this year, I noticed that a lot of the music I bought was released by R&S, so I decided to dig deeper. First I went through all of R&S’ releases on Traxsource, and I put the favorite tracks from those releases in a Spotify playlist. But I realized that the releases available for purchase on Traxsource were only the tip of the iceberg. So I went on Discogs and tried to find every R&S release from its founding in the 1980s to present day. Not all of the releases listed on Discogs were available on Spotify, but this listening project still took me a large chunk of time to complete.
After carefully listening through every R&S release I could find on Spotify between 1984 and 2017, I have selected 96 of my favorite R&S tracks and put them in a Spotify playlist that you can go through at the end of this post. Before you listen through the entire playlist, I will highlight my top 9 selections from the 96-track playlist.
Sweden’s Robert Leiner kicks off his 1990 album Visions of the Past with “Out of Control,” a calm slow-burner centered around tuneful melodic sequences, simple yet satisfying drums, and clean sound design. “Out of Control” works well both as the first track off of Visions of the Past or as the first track of a tech-oriented DJ set.
“Stretch (Shogun Remix)” by Ken Ishii was released in 1991, and it might be my favorite R&S track. A lesson in in calm intensity, Shogun’s remix is drum and bass at its core. With its memorable, straightforward synth hook, masterful arrangement that contains the perfect balance of breaks and busier drum-filled sections, and floating atmospheric sounds that carry the listener away, “Stretch (Shogun Remix)” hits the spot.
Optimo’s edit 20Hz by Capricorn is unique listening experience. Whether considering the bright, sidechained bassline, the high-frequency synth undulating in an eerie-sounding half step interval, the building taiko-esque drum line, or the pitched-down “One, two, three” vocal sample immediately before the drums reach their peak intensity, “20Hz – Optimo edit” is an eclectic mixture of elements that offers something to everyone.
Heavy-hitting music pioneer Aphex Twin released “Digeridoo” back in 1992. Besides the didgeridoo sound, AphexTwin flexes his peerless studio muscles with exquisite sound design and drums that I imagine would wallop dance floors the world over.
Next up is the Perc metal mix of Paula Temple’s “Colonized.” This aggressive, almost industrial-sounding techno track is relentless from start to finish. The resonant, soul-piercing lead synth line from “Colonized (Perc metal mix)” is a highlight from the track.
“OFI – SDC’s Evasive Funk Mix” by Model 500 from 2010 is another winner. Its thick, synth bass groove, smooth vocal hook, and guitar noodling that comes in at 4:54 give this electronic track a very natural sound.
Welcome To Mikrosector-50 by Space Dimension Controller tells a story. The 2013 album gives the account of Mr. 8040, a time-traveling space dimension controller. The plot involves the complications of time travel with a cast that includes a loyal computer, a love interest, and a guy called Max. The story starts in track 3, “Mr. 8040’s Introduction,” but the entire album is worth listening to.
Nicolas Jaar is one of the more creative electronic musicians I know of, and his sound is always evolving. In 2015, R&S released “Fight” as the Nymphs IV single off of his Nymphs album. “Fight” has everything we can hope for in a Nicolas Jaar track — his unique vocal style, compelling drum and sound artifact rhythms, and audio effects galore.
“Safe Changes” is the second track off of Talaboman’s 2017 released The Night Land album, and it feels like the perfect track to close off my top 9 picks of my favorite 96 R&S releases. The track starts with a synth arpeggio that keeps the listener grounded throughout the track. Talaboman is constantly adding in new elements over the course of the track, but always gradually —the track has a very smooth, easygoing feel to it. If you listen through to the end, there is an odd vocal sample involving an android that adds another dimension to the track.