I think it's better to listen to this music, to try and go inside the sound. I'm interested in people who are interested not in dance music, not in techno, not in...just in, music in its essence. And it's very hard to find. You can be an idiot but you feel it. Or you can be music journalist or some academic guy and you don't feel it.
Pavel Milyakov from Inside Johns Kingdom
I don't think there should be some specific, proper place for music. It would somehow destroy its flexibility and destroy the very essence of music and make it political, which I don't think is right.
-Unspecified quote from Inside Johns Kingdom
Maybe people should suffer a bit. People suffer, they start to think about deep things. If you need to improve something, you should start from yourself.
-Unspecified quote from Inside Johns Kingdom
A month or two ago, I was emailing with a colleague when I began an impassioned plea for him to check out the Russian artist Buttechno. After the second email—I’m nothing if not persistent when it comes to music—he admitted to me that the name sounded “gimmicky” to him and thus found himself dragging his heels on scoping the links I had sent.
In that moment, I realized I had been guilty of an equal unfounded ignoring of the artist born Pavel Milyakov for at least a solid year. Even though I had been properly intrigued by his Boiler Room set a couple years back—thanks for that one, Jason—I had managed to avoid adding his rapid output into my mental buy-on-site list until hearing the Super Siziy King EP that appeared late last year on Will Bankhead’s The Trilogy Tapes. Side note: I went from ignoring that label for five years to buying virtually every release since King, which has included essential transmissions from Kouhei Matsunaga and DJ Nobu, Parris, and Rezzett (not to mention picking up a copy of the smashingly focused Levantis twelve from 2013.)
But back to Pavel. The night before Pitchfork ran an introduction to the Gost Zvuk label, I began my own introductory piece to the label (props: theirs is much better tho obviously I woulda picked different tunes;) After having received several random messages asking for some starter tips from homies due to my fandom for the Russian imprint over the past year, I had gotten thinking about the fact that in addition to putting out some of my favorite albums, twelves, and ten-inch releases via their Gost Instrument sublabel, the label is a dangerous proposition for the already overloaded music nerd. Dedicated to releasing music already popular within Russia, each artist—be it Flaty, Алексей Никитин (Nocow), Oлег Буянов (OL), Пайпер Спрэй (Piper Spray), Кузьма Палкин (Kuzma Palkin), Винтажнайк (Vtgnike) or the Butt—opens a world for the listener, not just through their own sizable catalogs but also into whole scenes.
In Pavel’s case, I only wish I could find another artist so eager to take the risks he does, shifting from banging, chin-stroking electro to mutant French pop to death drones and beyond. In an essay about the Buttechno project for the INRUSSIA site, he comes across as the type of bedroom-bound art and music obsessive for whom the internet is truly the most powerful of tools. In describing his listening habits as including "Japanese Noise and 1980s computer music, musique concrete, and spoken word poetry," he describes with an earnest sincerity the hours spent digging through Discogs and working on music 24/7. Citing his inspiration as "crazy musicians" he goes on to namecheck Mika Vaino and especially Terrence Dixon, the prolific and awe-inspiring Detroit producer, for his ability to work with a "selection of instruments is limited: you could have one drum machine or one synthesizer, for example, and that’s it. And he managed to create things which would be impossible to reproduce even with a large number of acoustic instruments. Music like that blows you away, and you understand how it’s possible to work with any tools."
Concluding the piece is a paragraph that seems to provide a far-more succinct assessment of his music, worth quoting at length here:
Overall, I would say that I’m trying to create my own kind of musical language. There are some elementary, basic concepts in music: minor and major melodies, syncopated rhythm. It’s important to be able to use those, but I’m concerned with other things. Aphex Twin, for example, created his own personal scales and harmonies which no one could replicate – that’s the researcher-theorist path. But there are other routes you can follow. Keiji Haino explained in an interview how he enters a music shop, chooses an instrument he can’t play, and thinks up his own way of playing it. And in this way, often by accident, completely unexpected things start to emerge. And for me, just as important as mastering the abstract language of music and instruments – is not becoming their hostage.
He’s that rare sort of electronic artist who can command a record buying artist, however small of one, across more dance-focused twelve-inches as well as cassettes and full-length records. He also co-runs the Johns Kingdom label, a Russian-focused imprint that was the subject of the documentary short "In Search of Johns Kingdom" (bearing the memorable tagline of "A film set where the borders are everywhere, the money's worth half, and anyone can steal Ableton). It's an inspiring doc that touches on both the electric excitement of youth and its ability to create worlds out of nothing while situating the artists profiled against the twisted background of modern-day Moscow.
When it comes to getting started with the music made both under the Buttechno alias and under his birth name...for an artist whose only been releasing records for three years, the fact that I felt the need to pen an 'introduction' to an already-intimidating discography speaks to his prolific nad consistent output. Initially, I went to review his latest four-tracker of bangers and realized that I had ceased enjoying each release on its own, and more as part of a larger tapestry he’s weaving. It’s an obsessive quality enjoyed by artists like Aphex Twin, Burial, and Actress. And that comparison might seem facile or insane, but consider this: we’ve just begun to reckon with decades of art that existed behind a cultural embargo that remained in place well after things warmed up.
In the past few years I’ve noticed, both within my own collection and in the many record mailers I receive, a steady build in ‘lost classics’ from Ukraine, Serbia, and other Eastern Bloc countries. If I’ve learned anything in my engagement with these artists and labels is that the past seventy or eighty years of history contains shades and nuances to it that westerners simply haven’t engaged with much outside of a well-run Russian studies department (shout out Grinnell College). And just within the brief but mighty catalog Pavel has assembled, one is overwhelmed by the sense of endless rabbit holes as the producer has only begun to hint at just how versatile and accomplished he might actually turn out to be.
Buttechno - 1984 (Self-Released 2015/2017)
Talk about starting with a bang. When perusing the Discogs page for the artist, one thing that junps out at you besides the adorable pic of Pavel jamming out on his guitar--which makes regular cameos in his production--is that a chunk of his discography is self-released, starting with this seven-inch of weirdo electro. Re-released via the artist's new-ish RASSVET records imprint last year as twelve-inch with a whole new B side featuring two additional tracks, this record is the reason that when people ask me where to start with Buttechno, I'm able to annoyingly respond with "at the beginning." Though the seven-inch was his official introduction as Buttechno, he had already been functioning as a multi-disciplinary artist in Moscow as a graphic designer whose work included making fliers for the Nauka i Iskusstvo (Science and Arts) club as well as fashion designer Gosha Rubchinsky.
Sold in an edition of fifty and created for Rubchinsky's Spring/Summer "1984" 2016 runway show, if I had to say one thing about this record's A side, it's that I'd walk to that. Unlike some of the other more abstract work he did for the designer, both cuts are slamming bits of nostalgia-drenched electro with the opening section of "experimentator" sounding like the title screen for some version of Contra I'd kill to play. Taking the show's title from the Orwell's book that served as something of a parable for his and Milyakov's childhood, the fact that it's also the year he and I were born is a curious reminder of the cultural touchstones that were heard on either side of the curtain. Thing shift from pixels to The song's first left turn comes in the chord change about forty seconds in when the track turns into workout montage soundtrack. But the real stunner comes in the final two minutes when a barrage of sci-fi noise washes away the beat and a solitary, pensive piano solo commences without flinching. For me, this was the moment I knew this was a producer I was going to be hearing a lot more of.
Though not included on the original release, the chilly wave music of "Nau" continues the retro-fetishizing, but once again, Milyakov manages to accomplish what the hundreds of other similar backwards-looking tracks so often fail to do and that's to present a parallel portrait of the past that's actually affecting. Drawing on his rock roots as the guitarist in the punkish band Midnight Cobras, a raucous rhythm guitar keeps the time as a shadowy vocalist intones entrancing poetry (even if we have no clue what's being said) with enough attitude to let us know they care. The blues-y keyboard riff shows off the producer's prodigious knowledge of music history without feeling hackneyed or pastiche. The B side kicks off with the original B cut from the initial release. "Dungeon 5" showcases the type of swung brutalist house rhythms that are something of a hallmark of the producer's, muscular loops of Chicago-echoing drums that he drowns in filters to create the aquatic atmospherics and spectral sounds that are paired perfectly with delayed dub chord stabs and a snaking topline. But it's closing track "Czema" that finishes what "exterminator" started and that's another jaw-dropping dancefloor stunner just weird enough to work. Opening on a glorious bit of parking garage rave mise-en-scéne, we're plunged directly into a 4am acid techno set as the groove writhes and seizes in volume and rhythm before a pesky acid squelch gradually supplants the beat before subsuming the entirety of the mix. It's a high-drama moment and one milked for all its worth as a simple-but-not 303 loop is mangled and mistreated before being brought back to life with a cracking electro bass thump and left alone to intone into the dead, cold night. All in all, it's an explosive debut that features the producer's willingness not to be pinned down to a single sound or style while remaining subversively reverential of those he employs.
Buttechno - СПОРТ (Self-Released 2015)
As I stated above, the best place to start one’s descent into the Butt is at the beginning. And this is true if floor-focused twelves aren’t typically your thing for the same year that Milyakov made his debut on wax with the 1984 seven-inch, he followed it up in October of 2015 with a startling ambitious debut album. I’ve been living with a physical copy of “Sports” (the title in English) for six months now, and it’s with zero levity that I find myself referring to as (my least favorite musical descriptor) “challenging.” However, just like that word allows eclectic collector types to wall off whole genres of music behind a self-imposed veil of esotericism, Sports is a cagey animal and one that doesn’t exactly play nice with others.
It’s an album that is both staggering in its density while remaining so focused on a relatively linear narrative, one that sees the album’s dank, dark spaces slowly being filled with dusky light. From the opening tidal bass flows of “M,” the album stays largely in the lower register for much of its first half, a high-end of a melodic nature not appearing until the mournful moan of “P-L.” Instead, the album first dives downward into the murky acid chef of “Aerial Line Layer” and inward with the titular low-end rumblings of “Bass.” The skeletal rhythms grow more florid on “Electric” as spastic polyrhythms and sudden accents threaten to tear out the insecure I-Beam of a beat (I-Beat?) Like midday light striking the edge of a half-empty glass to faintly project a dismal rainbow on the whitened walls, a sense of optimistic sorrow suffuses the quasi-IDM techno of “East” and brings the first half of the album to a slightly better space than where it began.
A familiar acidic rumble is swiftly inverted into an astral high-end on B1 cut “Zov Echo,” its cosmic debris ricocheting endlessly off one another in the vacuum of space. Picking up where “East” left off, “Yalta Digger” confirms one’s suspicions over Milyakov’s percussive prowess as ASMR-facing flutters cascade over the broken kicks that seem to parallel the typed-out radio signal hovering amongst the clouds. It’s a track that fills in what had hitherto been an outline of the sonic space Milyakov has been patiently rendering, bronze statues of Mika Vaino and Ken Downie standing proud in the town’s square. The familiar 4x4 thump returns atop “Untitled H,” this time amended with a questioning series of notes picked out from the shrubbery whose poison is quick to set upon the listener’s vitals. The UK-informed broken bass that has been lingering in the background for most of the album steps up to the forefront on “Styx Vol 2l” its Beneath-style kicks and bassline quickly augmented with Milyakov’s now-trademark percussive house flex for a quick few bars, tumbling into “Metal’s” industrial grade pummeling. That Milyakov might be a student of UK dance ceases to be a question on closer “Rasstvet,” the glimmering gold coin at the end of the dungeon level. Disembodied choral voices intone in a heavenly manner as a sliced-and-diced Amen break drills deep into the core of Sports, ROYGBIV light streams spewing out a la Robert Beatty's Challenger cover art (above).
It’s an apt image for both the album and the wider movement it’s apart of, be it via the Johns Kingdom crew or whatever new axis of creativity is currently seeking alignment somewhere amidst a housing block in Moscow. There might be plenty of beauty to behold, but it can’t be purchased. Rather it must be taken, earned through an obsessive passion for creating something new in a world that’s seemingly given up on its future, be it in the arts or in the environment. As we hear in Pavel's music and that of his peers, Russia has been listening to the rest of the world while being muted itself, unable to dialogue at any level other than diplomatic. The internet is the window to whole country's souls if you look closely enough and when you rid yourself of the countless distractions that connectivity brings with it, you're left with something mightier than any nuclear arsenal: the hope that making art allows one to at least acknowledge the existence of and to possibly strive towards something beyond the immediacy of our own immediate surroundings.
Buttechno - Untitled (Sex Lies Magnetic Tape 2015)
OK, my bad. So I was just cruising the few things that are in my digital music library and realized I had a cache of Buttechno recordings, one of which I had totally failed to do my due diligence on as it would certainly have been included in the original draft. Oh well, it's here now and it's brrrrrrrrrlliant. Like a more abstracted, (slightly) colorful extension of the Sports album without the conceptual narrative (or the appearance of any I can detect). It's Buttman in jam mode and it's glorious.
Buttechno - gosha rubchinskiy aw 16 soundtrack
A digital-only release on Milyakov's Johns Kingdon, this digital-only release is another byproduct of his ongoing collaboration Rubchinsky and features five tracks culled from his live performance during the designer's fall fashion show. The seven-minute opening atmospherics of "1st" grow gently, wind catching hold of the dandelion seeds and sending them yonder. A muted, wooden sine wave mutates as echoing stomps pierce the silence while covering everything in anxious dread. Firey feedback rips the listener's growing sense of comfort out from underneath, wrestling with the quiet in a fixed fight. A rumbling drone in the key of Pansonic roars into being as the piece gently climaxes and recedes slowly into the dank recessed from which it emerged. This sense of whimsical narrativizing is reinforced by the rapid velocities of the twinkling tones on "tragediya v stile dub piano," the titular characters taking their places over a stolid kick. It's a taut slice of tensile techno as a reserved cascading melody is picked out by the echoing keys, Milyakov pursuing the idea across five-and-a-half minutes of frozen terrain. The dub techno-facing centerpiece "silent e" brilliantly showcases the producer's ability to extract the essential from existing styles, reshaping it in new and clever forms. A ricocheting animal skin-covered drum pummels away until a tonal outline appears in the haze. Dainty electric piano stabs addd a kick of sass to an otherwise shy sort, shuffling impatiently amongst the wallflowers.
Throughout the course of the recording, Milyakov's romanticizing of limited means by which to create his scenes comes to the forefront as the five vignettes on hand each present a rather upfront idea and endlessly mold it until it reaches an intoxicating state of equilibrium. "future" is an apt testament to this dynamic as a popcorn down beat bursts forth, the title repeated ad nauseum alongside a confused unshaven mass of a bassline. Closing things in a minimal manner is the technoid throwdown of "black moon." A strobing synth flicker hovers everpresent and the kick thunders indignantly against the presence of the end, weaving a heady deep techno scarf that drones on incessantly, eventually folding in upon itself. Shit, I'd be way more into fashion if this is what music was always like.
Buttechno - 7 (Collapsing Market 2016)
Released in an edition of 250 and mastered by Dutch electro wizard Alden Tyrell, this seven-inch three tracker pulled back the curtains a bit further on this producer's enigmatic, shape-shifting sound with a proper slice of atmospheric ambient on the "Untitled" A-side. Where the rhythm machine drums on "dungeon 5" banged the box, here the increased reverb and presence of tumbling toms and wooden sticks give the track a post-tribal vibe that neatly lines up with much of the percussive tracks coming out of the UK currently. The bass line syncs up with the martial beats to give the whole track an awkwardly stilted quality that never manages to break through the crippling atmospherics. An anxious arpeggiation greets the listener on the flip as Pavel continues to develop the cold broken beat and wave synthesis his tracks often seem .to court without ever giving up the strange, strange funk. Closing out the triptych is the post-Chain Reaction chin-stroker given a post-Soviet rubdown as the disorienting bass drone that explodes into the mix a minute in renders this weightless delay-athon something wholly other, keeping the listener on their toes until a plug pulled or breaker blown silences the whole affair.
Buttechno - Tepliy Stan EP (Тёплый Стан) (Public System Recordings 2016)
Put out in May 2016 via the Paris-via-Melbourne Public Systems Recordings, opening cut "Strainn" sees the producer really spreading his wings and sinking headfirst into his creation. An extended intro of delayed noise stabs sets up the listener for a heads-down stomper, but when the hallmark electro strut comes bouncing in, it all makes a curious kind of instant sense as the syncopated kicks leave open a space for the patterned ambiance to descend upon the arrangement. It's a move that Ekman chooses to imitate, turning in his own take on atmospheric electro that doesn't feel so much redundant as it does uninspired, lacking the electric charge coursing through the original. Jagged arps taking airborne shapes explode outward on "Trance T" before an unforgiving kick bound the various melodic threads into a much mightier rope. Things stay held in midair across the clave-spiked vista of electro bliss on "Augustus 13" while a smudged collage of a sampled speech rests upon an industrial downtempo beat for closer "Lady D." All in all, it's a varied and highly accessible four-track effort from Pavel tinted the slightest shade of normal thanks to the uninspired Ekman remix plopped right in the middle.
One of the many things I've come to appreciate just from binging Pavel's catalog the past few days is how fully-formed he appeared on his first two releases of 2015 before absolutely annihilating 2016 with an octet of releases both as Buttechno and his birth name, per the Gost Zvuk house rules, that gave the producer the chance to truly indulge in his various loves. Missing from that Pitchfork piece was a mention of the rather enlightening piece Gost founder low808 wrote for a Boiler Room mix series in 2015 and is worth quoting at length here:
I’m really glad there’s a lot of fruitful collaborations. The scene is boiling, in a way I’m seeing it as a futurist movement searching for the new ways of expression, kind of modern deep jazz scene, Russian electro bebop. On the other hand, there’s a process of rediscovering self-identity going on. We have been left with a huge cultural heritage from USSR which is far beyond the classic Soviet stereotypes. We also go deeper into the works and thoughts of the musicians, engineers, and thinkers of the early 20th century. Sound is an amazing medium, it reflects the reality and culture in a most delicate manner. I believe these artists are changing the perception of modern Russia.
It's a piece of writing that makes me think of what we really mean when using the term Post-Soviet. Hell. I was just re-watching The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes from 1970. In it, Holmes and Watson are invited to a viewing of the Russian Ballet and a gauntlet of mid-Cold War stereotypes, from the 'old-world' musicians soundtracking the raucous, vodka-fueled backstage party to the rather enduring portrayal of Russian women as submissive (yet not!) babymakers. It also struck me as telling that post-Space Race, the idea of Russians as futurists with imaginations of equal unboundedness as their American counterpoints had long been neutralized yet within its borders, the type of unbridled thinking that gave birth to such philosophical and artistic movements as Russian cosmism or the fantastical paper architects.
The focus on sound that comes across through the various transmissions from Pavel and co. is something felt from his very first release. But it's on Ялта, a highpoint of his career thus far, it injects some much-needed color into his released music. Released on the Gost label, the title of (Yalta) is a city he invokes somewhat regularly and whose layered meaning I won't attempt to decipher as I just don't know enough.
But the album, oh, the album. t's a worthy follow-up cum antidote to СПОРТ's patient stoicism while injecting some much-needed color into the music. And given the patient, dark daydream drone of Day Of My Death, another audio document of a Rubchinskiy show (Spring/Summer 2017) that I will be passing over for brevity's sake (ha), the dreamy synth runs and tripping kicks that greet the listen on "Ochhre" make clear from the start that the artist is trying something different this time around. This becomes much clearer on the deft "Dungeon" that starts off a dub techno-imbued electro number before morphing into "Silent E" from the gosha rubchinskiy aw 16 soundtrack, the micro-house stabs and tribal toms feeling even more vital in this context. Continuing the sense of this album being in his conversation with his previous work is the doomy downbeats of “Styx Vol 3,” and side A closer "Synthopia" and its reassuring run of synths finishes things on a hopeful note.
One thing that makes Yalta work is its leaner run-time—that is still far more dense and compelling than plenty of records twice its size. “Nuttech” opens proceedings on the B in lavish fashion as a stream of arps dart up and down in an almost Baroque sensibility, albeit one refracted through something far less opulent. It’s one of my absolute fave beatless pieces of the artist. Taking a much more glacial pace on the flip, the preset bass of “Nuttech” falls down a flight of stairs again and again beneath a gaseous dawn. “Loop Nov 25” finds Pavel indulging in his IDM predilections through a flippant downbeat and groovy lounge chords that sound like they should be at odds with one another, but instead make a charming couple. Following the Russian-Balearic electronics of “Warm Wind,” “Afterwheel Sept” sees the producer moving into a decidedly sunnier type of house music, one less submerged and brighter while equipped with a minimal yet forceful low-end. Closing the album is the five-minute couplet of “Goldbaby” and “Yalta Sea Blues.” The former represents the start of the wind-down to this early morning set of moody blues. A textured deep house drone that sounds like an abbreviated (and better) version of Will Long’s deconstructed stylings, it’s an immersive, romantic piece of music that cuts out abruptly just as the listener has given themselves over to a rare sense of comfort and ease. Featuring Pavel’s rhythmic guitar stylings coupled with a radiant key stab over a meaty slab of sped-up machine funk that calls to mind the JB’s jamming with This Heat if they never broke up when they did.
Buttechno - Super Siziy King (The Triology Tapes 2017)
For those already following the Butt with great intent, last November's Super Siziy King packed a wallop unlike anything else in his catalog to that point. Despite the album's gray-scale cover of some monstrous(ly misunderstood) figure shining its wisdom down upon the masses, from the opening seconds of opener "mr Heroin," it's clear we're hearing Pavel either release the record he had hesitated to or simply continue the natural outgrowth of the Buttechno project. A brisk samba-setting rhythm ticks away untouched as the spoken word poetry (or something of that ilk) the producer is so fond of interlocks with the snaking, romantic, and Francophile guitar. Speaking of which, what sounds like guitar chords delayed into nothingness soon give way to a percussive dub workout on "s dub," an indecisive slice of Buttechno weirdness. Concluding Side A on a more rhythmic but no less experimental note is "k4," a track that echoes some of the more mangled beat experiments he's done to create a sparse beat punctuated ever-so effectively by a single vocal utterance.
Not unlike Sports, this quasi-minialbum pursues a similar dichotomous trajectory as the album moves from the abstract to the more functionally abstract. A side of music containing three of my favorite pieces in the Butt catalog, the 80s dream boogie waterfalls that greet the listener before plunging them into a seedy beachside shack replete with used needles and great records. A loving bass line moves things along ever-so gently, snatches of vocals and assorted other sounds peppered heavily across the dish. It's the record's final third that reconnects the listener with the moody rhythm mania Pavel has his own over the brief "metalo," metallic percussion prattling on and on until it's not. But it's the closing musique concréte techno of the title track that surely spurred one Discogs commentator to quip, "Dear Sirs, we have the 'low-fi Villalobos' here." Well, the fact it starts off with 'dear sirs' tells you all need to know about the rest of the comment. But the deep baritone and spontaneous chatter and harmonizing that serve as the track's hook feels directly cribbed from the Villalobos playbook...and so what? Mentioning that the 'low-fi Villalobos' is not his cup of tea, that same digital pundit concluded his comment with "Too much psichedelia and intellectual understatement in it." Exaaaaactly. But where Villalobos and his lesser imitators would spend a minimum of ten minutes sucking their elements for everything their worth, Milyakov astutely crafts what could be dancefloor charter in another world, streamlined and sleek as it is. It's a confounding ending to a dizzying EP and one that arguably served as the producer's warning shot that he has too much more heat just sitting on hard drives (or something like that).
Buttechno – City-2 (City-2 St. Giga 2017)
Wanna see a classic instance of Discogs bitching and moaning as well as a testament to the annoying record collector types with which his music stands to grow in appeal? Voila. Released in an edition of 200 in Japan, where it is NOT cheap to make records, this is likely the most elusive record in the Butt catalog and while I've only heard the two awesome tracks contained on its Discogs page, it still feels worth including here. Any release where the official notes for a release has an asterisk of info pre-empting future Discogs freakouts by informing listeners that the noise of track four is intentional is a record I hope to one day own. But seeing the prices are currently above the $100 mark, I'm not holding my breath.
Pavel Milyakov - Eastern Strike (RASSVET records 2018)
Well, considering I finally featured the Butt in these pages just last week in my first third favorites, please forgive me for feeling pretty content to just copy and paste that mother right here.
Although the Gost Zvuk label has remained silent so far after an insanely prolific 2017 that saw four of its core artists each releasing a full-length effort, that doesn't mean we've been left wanting in the out-there Russian electronic music department. The ever-evolving artist behind Buttechno has returned to his birth name outside of the label for the second transmission from his own RASSVET records imprint following the blistering 1984 reissue that saw him reissuing his own self-released seven-inch as a twelve-inch record with two additional, mind-scrambling tracks. Most impressive was the fact that the record essentially played like two distinct EPs with two outré electro tracks on the A and two extended examples of his muscular, quirky brand of tech-house on the B. On our last check-in with his Buttechno alias via his confusingly great Super Siziy King release for The Trilogy Tapes, over six tracks we got mutant pop, dub-not-dub, and a Villalobos-channelling techno piece.
So, what greatness does Eastern Strike hold? Well, this is the first release since the dark ambient stylings of Day Of My Death that I could see dividing even the most hardcore of Buttechno fans. But unlike that somber piece of Gosha Rubchinskiy fashion show soundtracking, there's no doubt that he's having fun as always. The A is the real shocker here as it contains three tracks of the type of beatless trance-inspired arpeggiations and vamps that Lorenzo Senni has made synonymous with himself. Unlike Senni's earlier work that felt like static studies, leading track "Main Loop" repeats the same chord progression for four minutes--plus it's there in the locked groove at the side's end--but never gets old, Milyakov going straight for the heartstrings in a way Senni typically avoids. Or to put it another way, if Senni's compositions are grayscale trance, Milyakov's weightless synths are polychromatic, percussive, and poignant as well as trading in a different sort of nostalgia. Created for Rubchinskiy’s Spring/Summer 2017 show which drew on the memory of rave music, the memory play unfolding was a complex one stemming from the fact that Russia's rave culture didn't start until the Cold War's end and even then, it was always a shadow of a flicker to what was going on in Western Europe. Where Senni is drawing on the music of his childhood and early adulthood, Milyakov is drawing from Soviet isolation and post-Soviet uncertainty, a dynamic felt in each piece's restless energy that's been tethered down or shackled. "Chording" is even more dramatic, arpeggiated chords piercing the silence and emoting until the track flickers away. Closing the A side is the peculiar "Rassveting." Flipping through a series of movements, it injects a much-needed humanity into this three-track trance suite as the producer hammers out subsequent patterns and melodies before that locked grove reprise comes roaring back for an infinite scroll. For fans of Milyakov's truly singular command of rhythm, "B.A.D." is an all-too brief but meaty rhythm track that retains the energy of the producer's more house-y material, but puts it to use in a frenetically subtle broken beat that employs errant textural smudges and digital scrapes to make it a much-needed breath of air in a broken bass mix. Just because Milyakov demonstrated that he could make a home listening record with the best of 'em on Super Siziy King, he creates tracks that are meant to be played with and Eastern Strike is another satisfying left turn.
OK, so here is what got this all started in the first place: my desire to review the latest Buttechno twelve, a four-tracker on the curious Zodiac 44 imprint, a limited series of records courtesy of the Klasse Recordings that puts out one record for each zodiac sign. Rocking the Capricorn styles, Milyakov goes for a decidedly electro bent on this four-track effort, with the requisite left turns of course. "Mod 808" sees his brand of electro going from the dissonant and atmospheric to something decidedly more Kraftwek- and Miami Bass-indebted. While he's always teased his melodic dexterity, "Mod 808" makes me beyond eager to see how that musicality continues to develop. Unlike the also-titled "m" on Sports that serves as a bass bath, this "M" continues the electro-bass vibes with laser-like arpeggiated darts that, like a bunch of birds from a Disney movie, work together to turn this track into a hovercraft.
For the listener perhaps hoping for a break from Pavel's electro predilections, "Subsonic 2" is the balls-to-the-wall, teeth-grinding stealth techno assault he's always threatened to drop. Riding a rapid two-note arpeggiation for the beatless intro, one the kicks come in like pistons, the whole track achieves a velocity to it that would be positively head-spinning on a proper system. Closing the EP with a track that seemingly plots a new course forward for the producer is the rubber flex-funk of "LOZH." Calling to mind ideas first presented in less-developed fashion on "Electric" from Sports , the track's use of percussive rhythm-melodies that sound as if they're caving inward upon impact make it the kind of track that genuinely warrants comparisons to some of Aphex Twin's more groove-focused moments without sounding like a shadow of it (i.e. Lanark Artefax; sorry, do not get it). It didn't jump out to me on the first few passes, but the best tracks rarely do as the only thing "LOZH" does to call attention to itself is craft one nasty-ass beatdown.