VARIOUS WarpVision The Videos 1989-2004 (Warp)

A glorious celebration of one of dance music’s most consistently inventive labels, “WarpVision The Videos 1989-2004” collects together 32 promotional videos from such alternative household names as LFO, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Jimi Tenor, Plaid, Antipop Consortium and Jamie Lidell. Consequently, it also functions rather neatly as a compilation of the Sheffield label’s big singles, although in doing so it omits key potential contributors such as Boards Of Canada and The Black Dog, presumably disbarred for not actually making any videos.

Proceedings begin humbly with the primitive computer game and space and circuit board imagery of Sweet Exorcist’s “Testone”, co-directed by a pre-Britpop Jarvis Cocker. Cheesy as it may appear now, it’s also fabulously iconic, meshing like hand and glove with the soundtracking beats and bleeps, a pirate broadcast from a parallel universe where the girl from Test Card F cranks out rave anthems on elderly synths. It takes a little while for the DVD to slip this admittedly stylish musical and visual straightjacket, but when it succeeds it blossoms: Jarvis, again, sends a cluster of random objects skittering in stop-motion across a beach in a perfectly-pitched accompaniment to the filigree charms of Aphex Twin’s “On”. Sabres Of Paradise’s dubby “Wilmot” is visualised as a slow-motion Salvation Army carnival; Richard D James’ “Donkey Rhubarb” summons up images of sinister Teletubbies with Aphex Twin faces that gradually seem to mutate into a gang of “Clockwork Orange” droogs, something that never happened whilst spinning the 12”.

Speaking of which, Chris Cunningham’s devastating “Come To Daddy” is here in all its pensioner-terrorising director’s cut glory. Hordes of tiny children in Aphex Twin masks, compelled by a mysterious broadcast on an abandoned television, run amok in tower block hell to the sound of RDJ’s death disco. Squarepusher performs his popular favourite “Come On My Selector” to another elaborate Cunningham storyline, played out in the corridors of the Osaka Home For Mentally Disturbed Children, mashing up Japanese brainswap horror with Tom Jenkinson’s virtuoso bass playing. Jimi Tenor offers some light relief from the encroaching terror on “Midsummer Night”, as, during a boating trip with somebody of sufficient age and likeness to be his father, a Hammond organ emerges from beneath the water’s surface, allowing the caped artist to take a solo.

Next, Chris Cunningham trumps himself with his epic accompaniment to Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker”: lavishly filmed in LA with limousines, choreography and Aphex Twin umbrellas, it’s filthy and funny, although guaranteed to start more arguments about any inherent sexism and racism it may or may not possess than the fact that the bikini-clad dancers all seem to have a grotesque caricature of the Twin’s own ginger bearded features can finish. In less controversial waters, Broadcast’s luxuriantly retro “Papercuts” is from some place where the works of Young Marble Giants, Portishead, Stereolab and The United States Of America intersect. The lyrical origami of John Callaghan’s “I’m Not Comfortable Inside My Mind” is warm, witty, if slightly confused, fun. Having foolishly abandoned Plaid early in their post-Black Dog career I’ve missed out on delights such as “Eyen” and the porcine PowerPoint poisoning of “Itsu” (“Push the limits of pig growth!”). Plunging from one extreme to another, Autechre’s punishingly tuneless “Gantz Graf” must have been a nightmare to animate.

Aphex Twin crops up again with “Windowlicker” b-side “Nannou”, bringing to life the kind of crazy imaginary clockwork machinery featured on the cover of (and, as far as can be determined, used to make) his “Drukqs” album. More Japanese children make mischief to the thunderous throb of LFO’s “Freak”, and Luke Vibert’s “I Love Acid” delivers exactly the kind of burbly delights you might expect from the title, enacted by a cartoon cat that got the chemicals. The animation that plays alongside Mira Calx’s “Little Numba” is considerably more ornate than the random collection of beats and clanks that make up the track itself, which sounds like a typewriter in a tumble dryer.

Extra frippery on the disc itself is limited to a random canter through the Warp catalogue’s cover art gallery, a fine idea somewhat stymied by the fact that the sleeve images occupy less than a quarter of the screen area. Of more interest is the bonus CD that accompanies initial copies of this DVD. “Watch And Repeat Play A Warp Records Mix” is something very other than a parade of Warp sides lazily crossfaded together. Assembled by Buddy Peace and ZILLA, whoever they may be, it’s a 54 minute patchwork of the familiar (the Aphex Twin’s back pages are frequently raided, particularly the malleable textures of “Selected Ambient Works Volume II”) and the not so (practically everything else here, for me). Far from being the handiwork of DJs and decks, this constantly morphing entity sounds like the creators have had free reign to conduct cut and paste raids on Warp’s master tape archive, and this multi-layered delight justifies such artistic license.

In fact, the whole endeavour attracts only a few negative points. The handsome packaging, presented as a slim hardback book, stores the discs in cardboard envelopes, meaning that not only are they practically impossible to remove but also become very scratched very quickly – my copy has already started to skip in places. Also, the cranky mastering means that, although the videos play as a continuous sequence, they are assembled in blocks of chapters of apparently random size. This means that, if you want to start from, say, track 14 you’ll endure a fair amount of rattling and cursing from your player as you chapter skip interminably forward to get to it. (The menu system only offers an alphabetical track listing, which is only just better than nothing at all.) The final few tracks seem to point to something of a decline in the label’s single-minded individualism: these are songs, almost, with lyrics and everything. But by that point this fabulous compilation has more than done its work: 15 years of (mostly) cutting-edge dance music, visualised with a total absence of bald blokes in violently fashionable clothing twiddling with synths.