In 1995, Mortiz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, the duo behind Basic Channel, set up Chain Reaction, a sub-label to their Basic Channel imprint, as a label designated for material by friends and colleagues. Both Basic Channel and Chain Reaction are legendary to most people who know these names, but utterly oblique to most of the world. The sound was grimy, technical, and so bass heavy that playing their records made your needle bounce out of the grooves from time to time, that was the rumor anyway. What made Chain Reaction distinct has always been the fact that it was consistently as meticulous and delicate as it was experimental and dirty in every aspect, from their sound, to their appeal, to their physical presence. Chain Reaction is one of those best-kept secret labels. It’s not the most accessible sound, but for those you can get into it Chain Reaction continues to be an unmatched force.
Most everyone on the Chain Reaction roster was a technician in their own right. There were a few mastering engineers in the bunch as well as two of the future co-founders of one of the world’s most popular pieces of live production software, Ableton (Robert Henke, Gerhard Behles, who went under the name Monolake at the time). Studio production played a big part in the Chain Reaction sound, but equally important was the sound of the vinyl itself. Chain Reaction vinyl had to be pressed in specific pressing plants in Detroit. Basic Channel and Chain Reaction were, and Basic Channel still is, Berlin based, but they were so influenced by the techno and underground sound of Detroit that they wanted their releases to have Detroit artifacts in their sound. Because records produce sound mechanically, the way a record is made influences the overall sound. Basic Channel has always been very adamant that the audio distortions and intrusions caused by the imperfections in the vinyl is all part of the sound. The Detroit plants they used were cheap and gitty and the vinyl was full of flaws, this helped give the Chain Reaction work the same dirty sound as the hardcore techno work coming from Detroit at that the time. It’s a slightly obsessive step to take, but also the kind of small detail that helped set Chain Reaction ahead of anything else.
The unorthodox aesthetics also had some drawbacks. Their CD releases were originally housed in embossed metal tins while their vinyl center labels looked like oxidizing steel. The German pressings had these labels while the US presses were just flat black with silver type. Both labels and tins were quite nice, but the tins proved to be a costly affect. The CDs were held in place within the case by a center spindle and if the tins got warm the metal would expand, cracking the CD from the center outward. Retail shops often had to send CD’s back before they could hit the shelves.
At this point, pretty much every Chain Reaction release is a collector’s item, typically between $35 to $80. The Chain Recaction catalogue boasts work by minimalist heavy hitters like Porter Ricks, Monolake, Fluxion, and Vladislav Delay, all of whom were very fresh on the scene at that point. Neither Monolake nor Porter Ricks had released any material before their work on Chain Reaction (members of these groups did however have solo work out from a few years prior). The core of Chain Reaction’s releases was from 1996-2000. After 2000, they only had one release in 2001 and then their final release in 2003. They managed to get out somewhere around 50 releases by roughly 15 artists. I have included a full artist roster with aliases below. I believe it’s complete, though there was a fair amount of multiple aliases and few mystery artists who are believed to be secret aliases.
Recently the Type label (which most people probably know from it’s handling of the vinyl releases for 808s & Dark Grapes I by Main Attrakionz and Instrumentals by Clams Casino) has started reissuing selected Chain Reaction work. So far Fluxion’s Vibrant Forms and Porter Rick’s Biokinetics have been remastered and reissued. There is a rumor that a sizable chunk of Chain Reaction 12” reissues are on the way as well. You can see the entire original Chain Reaction catalogue here: http://basicchannel.com/label/Chain+Reaction
Here is the list of aliases of the Chain Reaction roster and the people behind them:
Continuous Mode – Andy Mellwig
Erosion – Torsten Pröfrock
Fluxion – Konstantinos Soublis
Hallucinator – Edward George, Anna Piva
Helican Scan – Robert Henke
Matrix – Tetuso Tsuri
Monolake – Robert Henke, Gerhard Behles
Pelon – Henner Dondorf
Porter Ricks – Tomas Köner, Andy Mellwig
Resilent – Torsten Pröfrock
Ridis – Ingolf Schwarz
Scion – Peter Kuschnereit, René Löwe
Shinichi Atobe – (some fans speculate that this is René Löwe)
Substance – Peter Kuschnereit
Vainqueur – René Löwe
Vlandislav Delay – Sasu Ripatti
Scion – Emerge0
(The debut Chain Reaction release. Scion was Peter Kuschnereit and René Löwe, who would also release work individually as Substance and Vainquer, respectively. It’s slightly more house based than future work on the label. It’s for sure one of my favorite pieces from the Chain Reaction catalog.)
Fluxion – Lark
(This was the first Chain Reaction piece I ever heard. Until I head this I didn’t realize that anyone besides Basic Channel had made this dub techno sound. I was pretty lukewarm about this at first, but it grew on me over about a week and I can see why it’s been chosen for reissue. A true classic in the genera.)
Monolake – Macao
(Monolake represented the more abstract side of things, Porter Ricks was in this boat as well. Much more a product of sound generation than designed to be beat driven. It’s still good, but slightly different. It’s also strange to think that this was basically the work of the minds that created Ableton Live.)
Shinichi Atobe – Plug and Delay
(The second to last album offered by Chain Reaction. Shinichi Atobe is a bit of mystery. This is the only known appearance and reference by the artist, which is strange. Most artists on Chain Reaction had multiple projects going and even if their careers weren’t prolific they were at the very least existent. Beyond this release Shinichi Atobe is basically a ghost. This is possibly my number one track from Chain Reaction. Again slightly house influenced)
Shinichi Atobe – The Red Line
(This is sort of the precursor to Burial and things of that nature. It’s the sound of the memories of the parties your been to, fun, but also distant. Shinichi Atobe’s whole Ship-Scope release, which both tracks of his I have listed are from, is solid. It’s definitely my favorite work from the Chain Reaction catalog.)