I must confess, I'm really not much one for dark, industrial techno. Ever since 2012 when a post-Sandwell District world (the quartet of Regis, Silent Servant, Function, and Female with satellite artists including Rrose) was clamoring for scuzzier, noisier, and less-polished dance music, something that seems to happen ever five years or so in techno ever since Front 242 went grunge (the neo-industrial dialectic is real, folks). Whether in the form of L.I.E.S. curmudgeonly outsider positioning or Shifted's Avian label's fiercely slick brand of industrial techno, not to mention Dominic Fernow's Vatican Shadow project, the continued efforts of Surgeon, and James Ruskin and Richard Polson's Blueprint label, if you like the dark and heavy stuff, this decade has had you covered in spades.
And perhaps it was because my primary dance music shop a the time was in fact an industrial noise specialist that these artists felt so omnipresent, but honestly, I can only listen to so much metallic polyrhythms, brooding bass, and aimless noise. So I'm not quite sure what prompted me to click on a release whose cover checked all the 'noise techno' boxes--black cover, creepy white pencil drawing, religious iconography--but I'm glad I did. UVB-76 is a UK label started by Gremlinz and Ruffhouse that occupies the middle section of a multi-circle genre Venn Diagram containing sculpted noise, techno, and drum'n'bass (not surprisingly, doom'n'bass producer Pessimist is on the label). Where artists like Pessimist and Schiari make brooding dnb/techno hybrids that are enjoyable but a bit monochromatic for my personal taste--and I love that Ilian twelve--this latest release from Karim Maas is a shockingly fresh, experimental, and engaging take on a too-often stagnant sound. Strata of sabulous noise greet the listener at the start of "C_C_E_D_" before the paper thin percussion comes in, kicking up the sand and gravel and spewing it around the mix and into one's inner ear. The rest of the A-side features two different slabs of busticated digital and analog noise with the A Huren remix of "Cassette A" introducing shadows of rhythm so that the piece shakes and trembles in a most hypnotic way.
As harrowing and enjoyable as the A-side may be, the two cuts on the flip are what really got me salivating and wishing I could buy this sucker. "Zombissm" opens up in familiar but nevertheless fine fashion, a digital bed of thorny nettles branching out until the ground gives out and a booming delayed kick pattern clears the plane. Not dissimilar to the post-DNB stylings of Felix K's Hidden Hawaii label, I still find myself drawn much more to both Maas's and the label's obvious love for haunting sound design. After a solid three minutes of patient and beguiling build, the producer pulls the ace out of his sleeve and turns the meditative stepper into a full-blast electro throwdown, only to return to the more minimal rhythms of the first half, letting the track burn out like an unsmoked cigarette. Just exquisite. Closing track "Civilize" opens up on a muted metallic wall of gentle noise, radio frequencies pushing to jam the signal. Once the thundering toms and kicks enter, things get real fast as fantasy becomes reality and all your nightmare come true. As a hi-hat counter-rhythm tangles with the bass, the track starts to resemble something that I could see someone like Batu and his homies playing in a jiffy (though hopefully they don't cuz this baby is going in my bag...at some point). Soon the kick pattern picks up into a rolling cadence that is reminiscent of Ploy's recent neo-tribal material, but less in-your-face, kicking back and just letting the beat rip until only the amphetamine-soaked pulse remains, collapsing swiftly.
As I said at the start of this write-up, the kind of dour, black clothes-wearing techno really doesn't draw me in much these days. But I also have a sizable number of British Murder Boys, Ancient Methods, and Regis records sitting around. So clearly when the vibe is right, I'm down. And listening through some of UVB-76's other releases, they're cultivating a truly unique aesthetic in a scene that truly suffers from too many identikit producers and labels, in my opinion. If you're feeling Maas and love labels like Downwards, than I would point you to the concurrently-released Stave four-track EP, a ferly collection of abstracted techno equipped with a particularly dreadnought sound design and rhythmic intricacy that is genuinely refreshing. Also, while I've only given it one listen, the Overlook record released back in April features the kind of breakbeat and bass gene splicing that sends me up the wall dancing, so be sure to check that out...and everything else as this label is not fucking around when it comes to quality control. Yet another imprint to keep a watchful eye on as they seem to be dropping heat like shitty firemen.