Digital/Divide: February’s Electronic Music Reviewed

On February 29, 2016

by Gary Suarez 

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Digital/Divide is a monthly column devoted to any and all genres and subgenres in the great big beautiful world of electronic and dance music.

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Techno’s long-standing love affair with science fiction has produced countless records indebted to the profound promises and perils of the future. From admiring xenomorphs and replicants to marveling at the apocalyptic wastelands of Fury Road, the tradition goes at least as far back as Juan Atkins’ ingenuous Cybotron project. The spectrum of resulting sounds ranges from the Atlantis utopianism of Drexciya to the industrial dystopian doomsaying of Regis and Surgeon’s British Murder Boys, with numerous data points in between.

Under the guise of Thug Entrancer, Ryan McRyhew shares his own forward-thinking vision found amid the noodly squiggles and energy flashes of American techno. A fully actualized world building exercise replete with corresponding music videos, Arcology [Software] feels expansive and exploratory with metallic glints simultaneously illusory and ominously real. The move brings his project away from the on-the-fly footwork and juke experiments of Death After Life, though in instances like “Wage Mage” some of the turbo tempos remain, as is his wont.

The first clear demonstration of McRyhew’s hardware junkie puritanism, “Ghostless M.S.” delves deep into the vintage Roland muck. Likewise, the acidic “Arrakis” bubbles up its slowly boiling bassline while snares trembles around it. “Terrain” swiftly turns into an electro chase scene, while the inviting “Curaga” takes a more circuitous route through melodies and improvisations. More than mere interludes or segues, ambient sections like “VR-Urge” and “Low-Life” carry as much complexity and depth as the more beat-oriented tracks.


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Fred Falke, It’s A Memory [Mercury]

With Miami Music Week rapidly approaching, key imprints such as Defected and Toolroom have dropped their definitive compilations to psych revelers up for the annual poolside debauchery and nighttime saturnalia. If you haven’t booked a hotel yet, prepare to pay through the nose for your chance to queue indefinitely behind zonked out party people and maybe even hear some great dance music in the process. A veteran participant from years past, French house maestro Fred Falke isn’t listed on this year’s roster. But chances are good that you’ll encounter one of these fresh new mixes of his 2015 single “It’s A Memory,” which features L.A.-based singer Elohim. Falke’s countrymen Oliver open the six track remix package with a characteristic disco sheen, enhancing the airy vocals with triumphal Cerrone-esque flourishes. Elohim’s vocal begs for an indie electronic version, which it certainly receives on Chrome Sparks’ mix. A trance streak runs through Amtrac’s techy take, while Ferdinand Weber opts for a more direct house approach on par with his downright gorgeous records for Spinnin Deep.


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Fhloston Paradigm, Cosmosis Vol. 2 [Hyperdub]

More than 25 years long, King Britt’s discography ranges from his early 1990s club tracks with Josh Wink to the jazz funk of Sylk 130 to the toddler-centric dance party soundtrack Baby Loves Disco. The diversity and breadth of his catalog remains unparalleled, and he continues to record and DJ under a number of monikers. But Fhloston Paradigm might very well be his most liberating of projects, as reiterated on this latest record for Kode9’s perpetually groundbreaking Hyperdub label. Genre matters little across these three protracted tracks, particularly the skittering snares and piston kicks of the mystifying A-side “Nimoy.” All haunting arpeggios and piquant strings, “Return” shimmers much like Wendy Carlos’ analogue synthesizer work for Kubrick. Similarly pensive and trippy, “The Hour” hums along with tiny bleeps sequenced in sharp contrast. Over time, the minor errors compound into clicks of digital static, countered by bassy pads. Beauteous and intense, Cosmosis Vol. 2 suits late nights turning down after the club.


 

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Innsyter, Poison Life [L.A. Club Resource]

For his full length debut, this São Paolo based artist reaches back to the proto-industrial dance of Cabaret Voltaire, tape hiss and all. In a time when even some of the most abrasive dance music sounds so consistently polished, Innsyter’s apparent disdain for anything sleek or slick is a welcome reprieve. Like a soundtrack to deleted X-rated scenes from Videodrome, Poison Life thumps along with degraded rhythms and distressed basslines without regard for the trappings of modern production. “Pleasurable Possession” embraces its retro squiggles and bleeps, while the throwback electronic body music jam “Cut Eleven” throbs with disquieting drones and machine dread. Occasionally the beats catch or get tripped up, demonstrating the presence of a human curator by way of including these apparent errors. A standout in the bunch, “Fat Fetish” effectively exudes the Cronenberg-esque sexuality of the material. A comparatively less structured cut that builds on Innsyter’s lo-fi aesthetic, “Cut Four” gurgles and sighs into something almost resembling a groove.


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Keeno18, Channel 18 [Ultramajic]

Jimmy Edgar’s keen ear for creative dancefloor fare has made his Ultramajic imprint such a joy to follow. His latest signee is purportedly a former jock who fortuitously acquired a massive record collection from an unnamed Detroit dance music mainstay. It’s the sort of seemingly absurd backstory that those of us who’ve hung around the world of techno long enough should rightfully raise an eyebrow over. Yet regardless of what Keeno18’s true origins or identity may be, his music hardly sounds like the work of a relative novice. Potent club mutations like “AJH” and “QRTZ” lock into sweaty grooves of oft inscrutable samples and slightly warped loops. The warehouse relentlessness of “That’s A Sea Sick Cat” comes with its own narcotic effects, while “Arcturian” takes more of a tech-house route, its misshapen five-note melody finding opportunities for deformity at every turn. To call Channel 18 a dizzying experience is assuredly understatement, but the material grips you tight and just compels you to move.


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Kobosil, We Grow, You Decline [Ostgut Ton]

As one of the resident DJs at the techno mecca known as Berghain, Max Kobosil plays a vital role in the genre’s perpetuation some three decades since its Detroit beginnings. The Berlin nightclub’s trademark exclusivity--one made possible by a notoriously incomprehensible door policy--further adds an enigmatic aura to what might be playing inside. Yet Kobosil’s willfully strange debut album doesn’t always jibe with the notion of a packed sweaty Teutonic dance party. His record crawls to a start, with ominous experiments that frequently appears to explore the venue’s corners and cracks. He gets happily lost in the dingy details or microcosmic minutia of tracks like “The Exploring Mountain” and “Eihwaz.” Yet the savvy DJ remains in control all the while, escalating the intensity by way of ebb and flow as he would during one of his sets. Evocative yet minimal, “Aim For Target” ups the ante with urgency and foreboding, scaling back drastically just as it starts to suffocate.

Gary Suarez is a music writer born, raised, and based in New York City. He’s on Twitter.

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