Since it launched back in 2012, Sheffield label Central Processing Unit has placed itself at the forefront of the modern electro revival. Down the years the distinctive black and white artwork that graces the covers of CPU releases has become a mark of quality for lovers of electronic music the world over.
Running with the mantle of fellow Sheffield institution Warp Records, CPU drops often use the futuristic tones of electro, bleep techno, braindance and IDM in order to fashion bold compositions. CPU’s early releases established it as a force to be reckoned with - such a young imprint attracting the services of electro mainstay DMX Krew was always going to turn heads, for instance, and his Cities In Flight (2013) wowed with the way in which it updated the tones of Drexciyan machine-funk for a new era.
However, part of CPU’s appeal is also its track record for breaking exciting up-and-coming artists. The label’s very first drop was from Cygnus (Newmark Phase, 2012), a then-unknown producer who has gone on to release via labels such as Breakin’ Records and Craigie Knowes as well as returning to CPU several times. 96Back, Tryphème and Microlith are some of the other relative newcomers who have been championed by CPU - the latter of which label boss Chris Smith was turned onto by Dave ‘MNLTH’ Barnard, a situation which demonstrates Smith’s trust in his contemporaries and his investment in the scene he has loved since bleep techno first gripped his home city back in the late 80s/early 90s. Indeed, when Smith’s imprint hit the fifty releases mark in 2017 he celebrated by acknowledging CPU’s roots, ‘rebuilding’ two 1991 cuts from underground first-wave bleep act Detromental on the Move EP.
The sonics of CPU records are at once steeped in the history of electronic music and also instantly recognisable for their daring, playful air. Often this manifests itself in club tracks where mutant squelching basslines zip in and out of skittering 808 drum programming. Microlith’s Subtle Variance (2017), a record which tragically stands as the talented producer’s final release due to his death earlier that year, is a fine entry point for any DJ wishing to enliven their sets with the CPU sound, as are drops from the likes of Paul Blackford, Silicon Scally and Annie Hall.
However, it is a testament to Smith’s aesthetic vision that the imprint is able to attune this sonic palette as much towards home listening as the club. MNLTH's aptly-titled Flektro EP (2015) may be built on danceable beats, but some innovative electronic production and the incorporation of IDM-techno synths means that it functions just as well as a headphones experience. One can also go to LPs such as Nadia Struiwigh’s Lenticular (2017) and Bochum Welt’s Seafire (2019), which leave the dancefloor behind in order to explore halcyon-glow downtempo/ambient and Plaid-esque electronic compositions respectively, and the more leftfield tones of CPU’s sub-label Computer Club, an imprint which has explored experimental techno, noise, computer music and more since launching in 2014.
Central Processing Unit’s binary-code cataloguing system, visible on the front of each record, allows for precisely 257 releases. On the label’s current form you’d wager that every one of them will be a winner.