So here's the thing about me as a music fan: I'm a drummer. I know, musician music fans can be the worst as they often evaluate music by virtue of its technical prowess rather than the overall 'vibe' achieved. I'll never forget the first time that my ability as a drummer shaping my taste in music was pointed out to me by a friend floating the theory that all drummers are fans of The Police (I mean, Stewart Copeland, how can you go wrong?) And for all that jungle and d&b did for exploding what remaining parameters existed within rhythmic formalism, one could at least make the argument that so far, much of twenty-first electronic music has been a bit rhythmically conservative.
Now, I know what you're thinking: What about footwork and dubstep and...? Rhythmically, dubstep was at its most interesting (for my 2 cents) circa 2004-2008 when it had broken off fully from UKG and the half-step--essentially a martial downbeat at 140BPM--had yet to become the dubstep 'formula.' I don't know when the last time you listened to Loefah's 2004 Jungle Infiltrator EP, but having just revisited it, what struck me was how audacious it was in honing in one its its singular vibe. It was a vital document in pointing to how UKG and 2-Step could be repurposed to less poppy ends while still remaining within a certain rhythmic over-structure, be it the slowed-down jungle rhythm of the title track or the jazzy d&b/UKG hybrid that salvages chunks of broken beat while remaining fairly rhythmically predictable.
I'm always particularly disheartened when I find myself at a dance event these days, be it in a fancy club or dingy bar, and see dancers unsure of what to do in the absence of a 4x4 beat. Hell, one of the most important lessons I've ever learned the hard way was clearing out a room of would-be partystarters at a monthly I used to help run because we made the fatal decision to put on the complex polyrhthms of Analog Tapes from Africa's Brian Shimkovitz before Brenmar's early 10s club mutations, leaving the noise rock exile to play to an empty room that only an hour earlier had been jam-packed.
To this day, I won't feign like that didn't massively phase and confuse me. I found myself dancing maniacally and without awareness of the fading crowd as Shimkovitz's wide selection of tunes took him across meter, tempo, and beats. So when I'm out these days and I see the young punters pumping their fist at the entrance of that sturdy kick pattern, it genuinely bums me out that it's responses like this that keep some of the more able DJ's from taking much rhythmic risks. Even with the UK stuff I've been enraptured by, I've repeatedly heard it characterized as "dance music no one wants to dance to."
The ever-growing ubiquity of breakbeats in house and techno over the past decade has tossed up a lot of really boring throwback dance music that has often served as a reminder why they went out of fashion in the first place--too many DJ's working from the same drum sample packs in too few exciting ways. I've been watching a number of documentaries from the heydays of jungle and it's remarkable to me how much emphasis there was on what Simon Reynolds has dubbed "breakbeat science," each new record seeking to reconfigure the Amen break or another drumline swiped from old funk records that were spliced apart at the atomic level and reassembled in fantastic new ways before hardening into a rather predictable formula and giving into the forward propulsion granted from placing one's snare hits on the two and four. It's only been in the past few years that I've started to hear a proliferation of artists working at tempos ranging from 80 to 160BPM seeking to recapture that sense of wide-eyed exploration with rhythm. Just last year gave us an incredible triptych of producers working within the stripped-back quasi-rhythm tracks traditions of house/techno (Beatrice Dillon's "Can I Change My Mind), footwork (Jlin's Black Elephant) and batida (Nìdìa's Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida), all works that achieved a sonority through their singular rhythmic sculpting amongst a host of other producers (from Jana Rush to Joe). It's not so much that these producers are pushing out new rhythmic paradigms as much as they are subverting and stretching existing ones into compelling and challenging new territory.
The past couple months have unleashed a number of new works by producers whose interest in rhythm has often taken a backseat to more stylistic and atmospheric concerns, but whom seem to be taking advantage of this growing demand for rhythmic wot-u-call-it's (Rian Treanor's Contraposition EP in January set the tone in proper fashion while Samuel Kerridge's once-dour post-d&b excursions continue to grow more polychromatic and intricate. The fact that the past month has seen Autechre release their most-celebrated work in years perhaps speaks to the lasting effects of Warp's sly reissuing their first three albums to help sew the avant-IDM bug in reviewers. Hell, one need look no further than mainstream acts like Modeselektor who've long proven adept at presciently tapping into the techno underground, having stuffed the latest in their zeitgeist-y Modeselektion mix series with the likes of polyrhythm polymath Skee Mask, braindance brainiac Brainwaltzera, and wonky techno wunderkind rRoxymore (who has seemingly appeared on more comps in the past six months than any other artist, so cheers to her cuz she's killing it).
Of course, as we're only interested in the strangest of the strange here at zurkonic HQ, two releases, in particular, have stood out from two producers at different stages in their career. Where Irishman Eomac has proven himself as eclectic as he is prolific whether solo or as one-half of blown-out techno duo Lakker, reaching new extremes on his new album Reconnect, Edinburgh-based "multi-disciplinary artist, musician and experimental publisher" Joe Coghill has made his vinyl debut with an equally head-spinning feat of rhythmic spelunking into the space between intelligible and imperceptible rhythmic patterns.
n a piece last month for Hyponik, @eomac_music laid out ten disparate influences that informed Reconnect, ranging from Haitian voodoo drumming and blistering d&b to Irish folk songs and a gorgeous Arvo Pärt composition. And while it's an album I've spent a month with now and have recommended highly, it's far from an accessible listen. Opener "Lower Your Gaze" turns out to be a hilarious red herring that's no less jarring on the first or fifteenth listen. The distant, disparate sound of sticks hitting drumheads quickly dives into a sickly and clever downbeat and dubwise rhythm with manic toms cascading atop. Where one might expect at least a ghostly melody to waft about the synthetic stench worked up by the producer's robotic drummers, the cavalcade of cadences creates a sense of deafening silence, like someone piercing a veil in the fabric of space-time and letting that cosmic Hoover rip. "Ready to Die" comes roaring out of the gate at what sounds to be at least double the BPM of the preceding track, though for DJ's and dancers (?) trying to find the downbeat, good luck to you. And that's part of what makes Reconnect so astonishing for as the beats grow more fragmented--the martial beats that opens "Fall, Rise" is like listening to a Sousa march on meth--that yawning abyss, that negative space somehow growing in between the rhythmic seams becomes more present, more formidable with each passing track. The invocation of Pärt is truly telling through the presence of what sounds like strings being played from within the mouths of choir singers that comes billowing down the Teutonic mountainside, like lead-laden fog.
Rhythm and tone become one on the brief meditative interval that is "Other People's Fears" before what sounds like juke played at 200BPM rockets A-side closer "Resist All Dogma" into the stratosphere. The falling dominoes-like beats are pierced by what at first sounds like an evil rave siren punctuating the onslaught. Bon repeat passes appears to be the wail of some poor, distressed soul undergoing a massage session courtesy of the torture device from In the Penal Colony. In the Penal Colony.
If that last analogy can make listening to Reconnect sound like some diabolical exercise in self-harm, well, it's definitely a release perfect for those listeners into the more extreme side of the sonic spectrum. Kicking the B side off with another ominous interlude of droning drums, the familiarly vexing drum pattern that underwrites "Denounce Everything" serve as something of a Trojan Horse for the real violence is taking place in the high-end where the clunky rhythmic interplay is brought to a near-standstill by one of the more ghastly tones I've heard on a record in some time, caught in between a dying animal's death song and the sound of a thousand corpses burning. The idea of spiritual exegesis through rhythmic and harmonic nihilism comes into even clearer perspective on "Transmutation, Redemption, Forgiveness," the beat an expanded extension of the previous track's machine drum pummeling but this time given a topline of a person partaking in what's either a super cathartic primal scream session or the audio of a snuff film. Having seemingly placed the producer in a more placid, spiritual state of mind, penultimate composition "Being, Not Object" captures it's title's sense of soulful unification in a way that's tough to even describe, the beats and tones becoming one in a beautiful, dense orgy of sound and rhythm...which goes some way to describe the appeal and repulsion inherent in Reconnect. While I can only make assumptions about Eomac's religious upbringing, I personally hear plenty of catharsis-through-self-flagellationat work over the album's brief but harrowing thirty minutes. Closing paean "Earth and Sky" furthers the sense of mind and body synthesis as a disembodied siren song guides the listener towards a fate they've already accepted, or perhaps simply endured. Then again, to endure the absurdity of existence is perhaps the most devilish thing of all that we each must suffer with dignity. Reconnect is the soundtrack to working through all the other (meta)physical bullshit.
Moving from Ireland to Scotland, we have the debut EP from Edinburgh's Joe Coghill entitled Transit Valley. A four-track effort on his new 50% PURE imprint, the four tracks provide for an ideal listening double-feature with the aforementioned Treanor EP for where that release looks to grime and the nuum for its synthetic rhythmic overstructures, opening track "Transit Valley" sounds like someone running a barrage of jazz tom fills through some diabolical algorithm. Devoid of any anchoring melody, the maximalism of the drums creates its own sonorous space as different tones played at regular intervals give the passing notion of rhythm before one pattern is subsumed into a larger pattern. The whole fluid mess--indeed, it's unlikely anyone would characterize Coghill's drum assemblages as 'chopped-up'--underpinned with the computer-assisted precision and effects to make this more than drummer navelgazing as, much like Eomac does at his most successful moments on Reconnect, an atmosphere is achieved against the sound of a drumset being dragged up a hill.
The digital sounds and percussion that slowly overtake the last third of "Transit Valley" come to the immediate forefront of the mix on the percolating percussion of "Vantranq." Similar to the opening of "Transit Valley," sixteenth and thirty-second notes whir about in seeming cacophony before one's ears begin to discern a pattern and follow the logic of the beat as the diminutive pops and plonks are soon augmented by a thunderous rolling uproar of drums. This is short-lived however as the track's middle section sees the beats submerged beneath a wave of digital effects before the two atonal elements coalesce into a glorious crescendo whose sheer force threatens to derail the whole mess.
The opening post-techstep rhythm of "Exit Lane" presents the listener with a certain degree of infinitesimal negative space through which a whirring noise bores open enough of a portal for a decidedly unfriendly melody, that sounds like it's being played on a rotary dial-up modem, comes stumbling forth to create a disorienting but effective combined force that can give the listener a headrush on first listen. The assembled melodies and rhythms gain any type of 'catchiness' through their own comprehensibility, which fades as fast as it arises.
EP closer "Exorhythm" presents another left turn as the listener is confronted with layering beds of synthetic textures, tones, and vibrations until obtaining a level of mass implodes into a martial and unsettlingly conventional beat. Coghill doesn't let things stay simple for long as the space between the trustworthy eighth-notes is transformed into a hyperactive bouncy castle that's achieved zero-G's and all the kids have evacuated the birthday cake. The resonance from the 4X4 rhythmic backbone starts to congeal into a shadow of a tonecluster that's shattered like a piñata, letting fly all the microscopic polyrhythmic candy your ears can handle. It's an odd release, sitting somewhere between the type of underwhelming 'experimental' album great drummers invariably release and the rhythmic maximalism (and familiarity) of Reconnect, but done with its own brand of restraint that keeps the entirety of Uncanny Valley as compelling a listen as it is downright confounding.