Born in Cape Town in 1971, Alan Abrahams came of age in London before settling in Berlin via a stopoff in Lisbon, a journey that’s left an unquestionable mark on his dexterous and eclectic sound. Two of those stop-offs would give birth to the aliases for which he’s still best known: Portable (conceived in London) and Bodycode (a result of his Lisbon stint).
Releasing music for close to two decades now, Abrahams’ sound is one that really is befitting of the ‘deep’ tag by which it’s so often labelled. Just as comfortable producing music as he is providing brilliantly considerate vocals, Abrahams is a rare commodity in the electronic music scene: a master at extracting maximum emotion from machines and a wonderful vocalist to boot.
A long-time friend (and compatriot) of Lakuti, Abrahams first came to prominence via his own Süd Electronic label, a label that the duo ran together out of London. Featuring Abrahams’ first record as Portable, the imprint quickly became known as a more-than-soli outlet for electronic music in its many forms, and it’s thus no surprise that Abrahams came to the attention of Perlon in 2011. If ever there was a label that suited his African rhythms, Chicago influences and oft-eccentric way of working, then Perlon is surely it.
On a label tip, Abrahams kicked off Khoikhoi in 2018. Named after the pre-colonial tribes in the South African region where he grew up, the word roughly translates to “the first men” and offers further indication of a talent that continues to release brilliant music at an impressive rate. Also worth checking by the way, is his Rinse FM show, which showcases the depth of his influences in quite impressive fashion. With the curiously titled new LP, The Transit of Mercury recently dropping, we thought it a good time to crown Portable as our inaugural unsung house hero before we get stuck into this new full-length, showcasing some of our favourite gems of his from throughout the years…
Bodycode – Body to Body (feat. Lerato) (Yore Records, 2007)
Abrahams might be a brilliant vocalist in his own right, but he’s also just as capable when he’s giving someone else a stage. Enter Lerato (aka Lakuti) who provides seriously sulty lyrics to this warm, organic, deep gem. An early, underlooked gem in a discography packed full of highlights.
Portable – The Many (Perlon, 2008)
Predicting just what you’ll get from Perlon is famously difficult, such is the label’s penchant for encouraging its artists to go off-piste in search of kicks. This is certainly true for the A side on this release, and although ‘The Many’ sticks to a more familiar script, it too boasts an unusual appeal that’s very much its own.
Portable – The Shallow Fall (Musik Krause, 2008)
Musik Krause isn’t a label that’s retained its relevance quite in the same manner that some of the other labels Abrahams has repped, but it’s nonetheless been home to some pretty intoxicating jams. In compiling this list, I couldn’t help but feel I’ve missed out on so many other great cuts from the early days of Abrahams’ career. Rediscovering this one was a joy in itself.
Bodycode – Immune (Spectral Sound, 2009)
The title track from Bodycode’s Immune LP is a tearjerker like few others. A genuinely haunting and emotional piece of music, such is its brilliance that this would even fit nearly alongside some of Larry Heard’s most evocative work. Stunning.
Portable – imitation Lover (Spectral Sound, 2009)
Funky, full of zest and featuring his always wispy and evocative lyrics, ‘Imitation Lover’ is the sound of a producer having fun in the studio. A catchy cut that helps lift the night to a higher plane.
Portable – Find Me (Perlon) (2010)
Abrahams’ best known track is also arguably his best. From Robert Johnson to Panorama Bar to fabric and everywhere in between, this one was utterly ubiquitous following its release in 2010. And like all deep house classics, it retains its aura after all these years, still standing proudly alongside the best that the genre has to offer.
Portable – Surrender ft. Lcio (Robert Johnson, 2014)
“I want to dance and cry at the same time” says YouTuber sawdust1287 about this track. And really, there’s little more to say about this utterly captivating piece of music.
Portable – Say It’s Going to Change (K7!, 2016)
Never one to shy away from the camera, Portable’s actually directed and starred in a number of his own music videos, a fact that only enhances his reputation as an incredibly creative mind.
Portable – The Year My Dreams Come True (K7!, 2016)
Alan Abrahams’ music boasts both tension and wonder, with the piano so often his instrument of choice when creating both. The beautiful, serene sounds of ‘The Year My Dreams Come True’ is a case in point. A curtain closer that’s indicative of the producer’s knack for melody, it emphasises his range too, reminding us that he’s far from simply a peak-time player.
Portable – Believing (KhoiKhoi, 2018)
As Portable, much of Abrahams’ best work retains a colourful, vigorous flair, and ‘Believing’ is a brilliant indication of this.