K Alexi Shelby // BM11
(Bad Manners)

A true Chicago original brings the heat to Marcel Dettmann’s label.

Marcel Dettmann has been using his Bad Manners label to indulge his broader musical obsessions beyond the austere Berlin techno he’s so readily associated with. That’s not to say it’s a departure from driving 4/4, but rather the sound palette is broader and more playful. Following entries from the likes of Mono Junk, Anthony Rother and Inga Mauer, Dettmann reaches out to Chicago house royalty K Alexi Shelby for a trip into the heart of prototypical Windy City machine magic. 

Shelby’s sound is often foregrounded by his steamy vocal come-ons, and there’s no denying he’s made some truly hot records in his time, but from a production perspective he also ranks as one of the most visionary of the Chicago originators, edging especially tweaked synthesis into his jack which helped land him on Detroit labels as well as those from his home town. His release for Bad Manners is true to that sound from so many decades prior, but it doesn’t feel tired in the way so many throwback records can. 

If ‘Far Beyond’ has the raw structure of a classic Trax joint, it also gleams around the high notes and leaps forth on the drums with a subtle refinement. But Shelby still knows where the ineffable flair of the early records came from, when the mix down wasn’t everything and some of the best tracks also sounded sonically ‘wrong’. ‘Season of the Real’ is all over the place, the vocals a little too hot, the tops and mids splashing into each other, the piano chords sounding like they’ve been stripped for parts, and it’s dripping with vibe. It might scare off DJs or fickle crowds, but the expression is true and urgent, much like the title suggests. 

You just can’t fake that sense of realness, and Shelby sounds free to celebrate his mammoth legacy with four tracks that could come from no-one else.