Acoustic Sounds

Gabe Gurnsey




Front cover of the LP “Diablo” by Gabe Gurnsey

Label: Phantasy

Produced By: Phil Kirby

Engineered By: Phil Kirby

Mixed By: Phil Kirby

Mastered By: Beau Thomas and Phil Kirby

Lacquers Cut By: N/A

By: Mark Dawes

February 11th, 2023





Gabe Gurnsey: Diablo

An Electronic Epic Of Dancing And Lust

Gabe Gurnsey is the former drummer of “post-industrial” band Factory Floor, but on the late 2022 LP “Diablo” he has teamed up with vocalist and girlfriend Tilly Morris to produce an electronic opus to dancing and lust. This release comes from Phantasy Records, run by English DJ Erol Alkan. Phantasy is also home to electronic producer and DJ Daniel Avery, and house and techno artists such as Fort Romeau and Red Axes. 

There is a strong flavour of 1980s electronic pop to this album which lends it a neon-lit, glossy feel. However there is also a dark and sometimes minimal Techno undercurrent, and in rhythmic terms, a bouncing sense of Electro energy. This is unambiguously a dancefloor record, but there are a few tracks such as closer “To The Room” where the pulse is concealed and synthesiser tones dominate. There is a smooth, sleek feel to the low frequencies, but waves of distortion emerge from dark passages, and the overwhelming sense of space is created by echoing, cavernous dub delays. The 808 kick drum punches hard in these tracks, but the sensitive production creates ample space for sinuous, rubbery basslines to bubble between the pulses. The euphoric proto-techno of Giorgio Moroder springs to mind as a reference point, as well as the mysterious synthetic incantations of Underworld’s “Dubnobasswithmyheadman”. More recent touchstones include Planningtorock, or even, in places, Hot Chip, but this record also includes powerful EBM with a solid industrial core.

Opening track “Push” is sumptuous, arpeggiated techno, Morris’ vocals fading away into shimmering delays. “Hey Diablo” features the gentle vocals of Gurnsey, describing the euphoria of the ecstatic moment of bodily abandon, log-drum rhythms crosscutting with synth bass: “Rising into oscillation… rising into ultraviolet tones, kneeling down in exultation.. rising into ultraviolet tones”. “Power Passion” is the most overt of the 80s synthpop arrangements on the album, a tom-heavy slow jam with FM synth stabs and an intimate, inciteful vocal from Morris. “You Remind Me” has a rolling, overlapping bassline, another taunting vocal from Morris and a sighing, synthetic chord progression; just when the neon smoke is filtering through the strobe lights, darkness falls and the rhythmic assault activates the body. “Blessings” is a twitchy, irresistible 303 techno jam with seductive vocals and throbbing bass. Album highlight “Higher Estate” sizzles with anticipation and resolves into a blocky epic with crisp snares, high, ricocheting toms and a pounding, filtered bassline.

The superb voice recording and vocal processing on these tracks is a critical element of the overall sound. The male and female voices share space in the mid-range, fitting seductively into the mix. Gurnsey’s voice is light and lilting, reminiscent at times of Underworld’s Karl Hyde, and delivering more of the lyrical and melodic qualities than Morris’ more confrontational statements. The tracks are sublime dancefloor material as instrumentals, but the vocals elevate the blank techno format into something much more expressive, humane and licentious. The machine/body interface is beautifully elucidated; all of the glories of circuitry and programming merged seductively with the human instrument. Subtle vocoding, echoes in darkness, reverberant delays; every vocal part is rendered in a multi-layered three-dimensional harmonic space. Tilly Morris has a sultry, demanding tone to her voice, a nightclub femme channelling froideur and indifference. Most of her vocal parts are delivered in a clipped, moody Sprechgesang, citing the forces of lust and electronic sound to motivate the human body. Gurnsey tends more to an airy, extended tone, and the fusion of these distinct vocal expressions is the humane centre point of these fizzing, pulsing compositions. Myriad subtleties are laced through this very potent record, and careful listeners will enjoy sampled whirrs and flickers, airy reverbs, and a spacious soundstage. In rhythmic terms there is an obvious and uncompromising beat, but there are complexities in programming which augment and propel the rhythms forward. It may be four-to-the-floor, but the carefully crafted high-end percussive elements lend each track a forceful rhythmic contrast.

The endless dubby delays produce a palpable sense of time and space in the higher registers, while the pulsing synths and thumping 808 kicks generate sumptuous low frequency potency. The bass on this record is thrilling, powerful, speedy and crystal clear. The production is a testament to the studio skills of Phil Kirby, credited with mixing and engineering. It sounds effortless, but the intricacies of interweaving these chunky synthetic frequencies require technical ability, sensitivity and balance.

This is an exceptional pressing, punchy and lively and ringing with clarity. This has a full spectrum image, a complete expression of the production with a deep bass emphasis, zingy mid-range and smooth high-end. It is a loud cut with zero distortion. The spatial expansiveness and crystalline highs interact perfectly with warm bass rendering. The crisp high frequencies in the tastefully-applied delays and reverbs sizzle and move sinuously. Beau Thomas and Phil Kirby are credited with mastering, and deserve high praise; I did contact Phantasy to enquire about the pressing plant but I have not been able to establish where the record was manufactured. Perhaps another Phantasy release which has approached this quality of pressing is Daniel Avery’s “Drone Logic” (Phantasy PHLP002) full of pounding clarity and galloping pace. “Diablo” is pressed on neon pink vinyl on two 12” mid-weight discs. The tracks on each disc are afforded generous space and do not approach any closer than 3/4” to the label - it would be hard to imagine the bass rendering would be so deep if this LP came out on a single 12”. The package, designed by Paul Hemmingfield, and with artwork by Tilly Morris, looks beautiful - a pink portrait of Morris on the cover, glossy heavyweight colour inner sleeves, and exquisite vinyl. This is a sensuous and enthralling piece of vinyl overflowing with depth and clarity; this kind of dark electronic production is seldom rendered to vinyl so magically and with such pristine power. 

Music Specifications

Catalog No: Diablo PHLP16

Pressing Plant: N/A

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 140 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Multi LP


  • 2023-02-12 05:43:03 PM

    Come on wrote:

    Great review! I just see the sound quality different. An 11 is a lot. As most electronic albums, this one sounds pretty good, but there are many albums of that genre which have noticeably more fascinating spacial effects, same in some other characteristics.

    I’d give it a 9 for electronic albums and maybe a 10 generally, but definitely not more.

    • 2023-02-17 11:48:11 PM

      Mark Dawes wrote:

      Hi Come On Thank you - I appreciate your feedback. I agree - there are other very good pressings out there, and I would admit that I don’t know about all of them! I would have also mentioned the releases on We’re Going Deep, an Acid/Techno label run by Bristol, UK, DJ Placid - however these limited releases sell out quickly. The sound quality and pressing are truly superb, but on 300 edition runs I reckon most readers here will find these releases hard to get hold of. To respond to your comment on my ‘11 for Sound’ rating - I have really enjoyed the sonic qualities of this release, even more than I like the musical compositions. I welcome your input. Maybe this could be a good place for other readers who have an interest in electronic/techno music to suggest recordings or pressings that they consider worth exploring? Go for it! What are your most banging records? Let’s hear about other really good electronic releases.

      In closing, I want to pay tribute to the dance music/techno producers who continued to press vinyl in the early days of CD and into the streaming era - apart from a few niche releases, some pressing plants were kept alive by DJs and producers making 12” discs for the clubbing community (at least here in the UK). All the best Mark

  • 2023-02-16 05:46:25 PM

    andy wrote:

    Just had a listen to this on Tidal, thanks for the heads up it sounds great, must get the vinyl, btw great to have some new and electronic music reviews, there's only so many Steely Dan (who I love btw!) re issue reviews one can take.

    • 2023-02-17 11:51:17 PM

      Mark Dawes wrote:

      Hi Andy I must give credit to my friend Colin who pointed out this release to me. I have already raved about the vinyl pressings - I think it is a very high quality production, and I hope if you acquire the vinyl, that you find as much sonic enjoyment as I did. All the best Mark