As far as the music critical meta-discussion has gone for the past ten years, it can feel like it's all been one protracted discourse on nostalgia. January 2006 saw the birth of hauntology, that Jacques Derrida-sampling concept that made both the existence of Ghost Box and Mordant Music and the meteoric rise Burial's rain-and-video-game-effects-soaked rave eulogies make a lot more sense. However, as music production technology and the ability to relay new ideas instantly around the globe continued to push forward, music critics and the internet kept looking backwards to make sense of the ever-so-referential present, as ideas related to hypnogogic pop, chillwave, seapunk, and vaporwave were spewed throughout the online continuum for countless writers and producers to appropriate and dilute. And while all of the above concepts/genres have managed to transform a niche conversation into mainstream money via Jamie XX and Disclosure, rave nostalgia has retained its cultural capital amongst critics and producers big and small, a point illustrated through the close proximity between the recent releases of "pointillist trance" practitioner Lorenzo Senni Persona EP, his debut for Warp Records, and the quasi-holiday tradition of hauntological holdover Burial surprise releasing a new EP for Hyperdub.
To make this piece a little less gluttonous, we're going to take a stroll down two separate but parallel paths currently extending from the death of rave. As the recent releases of "pointillist trance" practitioner Lorenzo Senni's Persona EP, his debut for Warp Records, and the quasi-holiday tradition of hauntological holdover Burial surprise releasing a new EP illustrate, the "rave death" subgenre of contemporary British (and beyond) electronic music both returns us to a discussion we started having a decade ago, but one that has transcended its monochromatic origins to foster a neon rainbow spectrum of artists drawing on ideas and gear from the "glory days" of hardcore, jungle, UKG, and trance in the service of contemporary grime, experimental, and club music.
But Lorenzo Senni's somewhat surprising surge in popularity over the past four years complicates our "nostalgia has replaced creativity" bent as Senni novelly applies a minimalist lens through which to refract his own nostalgia for trance music. Of course, Senni is in no way the first member of the "electronic avant-garde" to mine trashy trance with the supposed agenda of making music that transcends the myopic tropes of the genre, with Evian Christ recently picking up and running to the bank with the trance torch previously lit by TranceWar. But maybe Italians do do it better (ugh, sorry) as Senni is a straight edge hardcore kid from Italy who developed a soft spot for the emotionality of "cheesy" commercial trance music before delving into the world of experimental electronics, but always with an eye on the (weird af) dance floor. His Presto?! label has featured the likes of Palmistry, DJ Stingray, EVOL, Florian Hecker, Gábor Lázár, and Theo Burt, who was co-responsbile for 2011's seminal Summer Mixtape by The Automatics Group that applied an algorithmic process called Fourier Analysis to strip a number of Ibiza-ready club anthem into gaseous, quasi-ambient techno (a personal favorite of mine).
It wasn't until late 2012, when we were already well into the rave death revival, that Senni quietly yet effectively released his Quantum Jelly platter on Editions Mego, the Austrian digital noise imprint continuing on in its 2010s diversification of output. It was at this point that Senni entered my life, enchanted by my most-trusted record seller's passionate characterization of infinitely looped trance lines hovering in air with no bass drum to ground them, it took about two seconds for me to grab a copy of my own. In terms of how he made these spinning dreidel-like trance deconstructions, Senni followed a restrictive methodology involving one Roland JP-8000 keyboard recorded live to two channels without any overdubs. Not surprisingly, I found Jelly to be a tad difficult, but less for its structural austerity than its all-too sincere emotionality, sonically overwhelmed by Senni's choosing to work within his self-imposed limitations and embrace the teary-eyed earnestness of so much commercial trance music, revealing that this maudlin mentality only intensified when untethered by bass or drums. By the time Boomkat Editions released the follow-up Superimpositions, Senni had sanded down his more radically minimal impulses and turned his attention to his clear knack for dextrous harmonic layering and off-kilter rhythmic patterns not typically associated with trance, such as the dancehall-indebted patterning that pops up . The convergence of these separate impulses reached an apex on that album's centerpiece "Forever Headline." It's that song where Senni pointed towards a more maximalist version of his trance reductions, one that amped up the melodic drama while making synthesized gestures towards particular rhythmic silhouettes, like the percussive stabs that echo the dramatic patterns of dancehall rhythms on closer "PointillisticT."
In a recent RA feature on Senni, one early line jumped out to me is when the Italian producer cited the inspiration drawn what he refers to as "the new Warp Classics," paradigm-shifting albums that have come in the form of releases from Hudson Mohawke, OPN, and most relevantly Rustie, whose breakthrough 2009 LP Glass Swords is a wholly unlikely maximalist influence on Senni's Warp debut, Persona. Also of note is the article's notation of the conceptual toolbox Senni has created to intelligently talk about his music, starting with the "pointillistic trance" tag he coined around the time of Quantum Jelly's release up to the recent umbrella term of "rave voyeur," a concept that gets at a certain distance--clearly illustrated on the cover--that this producer feels between himself and the musical legacy and tradition he is tapping into. While he attended gabber raves as a youth, his status as the straight-edge punk at the dance provided him with a unique and sober view on the drug-saturated gabber scene as he was able to hone in on musical ideas in a lucidly direct way that comes across immediately upon putting the needle on the Persona EP.
On EP opener "Win in the Flat World," It's clear that we're dealing with a different Senni here, one who has seemingly amped up his trance constructions to Gabber-like speeds and borrowed a few pages out of the playbook out of SOPHIE and the more hyperactive end of PC Music as the rapid and criss-crossing harmonies seemingly accelerate to the point of pure exhaustion. However, this is a classic dance music fake-out on the part of Senni, as a naive and stumbling melody takes center stage, guiding the song as it comes down from the euphoric rush of the first half, disassembling its various parts as pneumatic rhythmic patterns redolent of 90s Aphex Twin guide the piece until nothing is left. The winkingly-titled "Rave Voyeur" returns the listener to more familiar territory as the piece plays like a sequel to "Forerever Headline," upping the drama and melodic elements for a piece that doesn't quite hit the emotional bullseye of its precedent, but also is crucial in reorienting the listener to a slightly-less manic form of Senni's pointillistic trance. The big, stabbing chords that open "Emotiva1234" set the tone for a choppy piece of weightless trance as its violently staccato lead melody is evened out by a restless arpeggiation that provides an undulating counterweight to the stop-start structure of the lead part.
Just as the listener is starting to settle into something of a groove with the record, "One Life, One Chance" harkens back to the EP's opener as seemingly an album of ideas is crammed into three breathtaking minutes that will either having you call the closest means of procuring MDMA or reaching for the off button on the turntable. However, as immaculately sequenced as this EP is, Senni chooses this moment to introduce what could only be referred to as a trance balled in the aptly-named "Angel," quick yet plaintive chord stabs laying the bedrock for a skyward, high-end melody. Things become less stable as stabs soon become drenched in delay and a snaking cybernetic sitar-like melody weaves in and out of the increasingly unstable foundation as a cavalcade of high-end melodies fuse together in a heaven-bound trajectory. The comparably low-key "Angel" soon receives a reply in the hyperactive "Forever True" as a barrage of sonically askew synth leads pummel the listener without making much of an emotional impact. That this is the one part of the EP that doesn't really connect with the listener at first soon feels intentional as Senni hits the eject button from the sonic barrier-breaking velocity, initiating a precious coda with the composer creating what could best be described as a trance lullaby as the sounds coming from his trusty and versatile JP-8000 now are dampened and lacking much of any sustain, Senni weaving together a delicate and memorable closing solo melody. By the EP's close, it becomes clear to the listener that for all the added bombast and mania in his sound, the producer is still most comfortable crafting simple yet effective melodies that transport the listener to to an entirely novel musical realm. It is in this trance dance where some of today's most en vogue production tricks and trends, like rave-indebted melodic maximalism, dancehall and dembow rhythms, and the critical interrogation of the mainstream sounds of EDM and trance itself by those with a more underground focus, coexist not only effortlessly, but with an apparent necessity that is a true testament to Senni's achievements here. This EP isn't trendy; it's necessary.