For the skeptical among us, there was something foolish about the period in which "intelligent dance music" became a widely acceptable genre description. As the term's usage increased in frequency, it became clear that the infinitely far-reaching state of intelligence was being equated with a comparitively limited palette of sonic features and a similarly limited emotional range. In a sonic world where intelligence could only be indicated by extreme complexity in rhythm and tone color, what was to be said for electronic music that didn't evince these characteristics? Was techno of a more austere or minimalistic bent now "stupid dance music?" And, conversely, was there absolutely no producer of "officially" "intelligent" dance music who might have been deficient in those innovative abilities that often demonstrate intelligence - were there really no IDM merchants who unreflectively chose to re-create the same work ad infinitum once they had learned how to properly mimic the technique of trailblazing artists?
Luckily, we know the 'happy ending' to this story. Not that many producers of other electronic dance styles really cowered in fear that their music would be perceived as "un-intelligent" unless they embraced tonal ultra-complexity and elusive, meandering time signatures. As techno music entered into the 21st century that it had been looking towards since the 1980s, the leading lights of the scene hinted that intelligence and sophistication could just as easily be invested into other elements of the final presentation: this could be anything from advances in mastering technique to the partial submersion and occlusion of familiar elements, neither of which necessitated a away from the steady pulse beat that had always been fundamental to the music.
Berlin quietly positioned itself as one of the epicenters of this culture, attracting yet another wave of technologically adept artists from the peripheries of the world, and this surplus of local talent has been channeled into record labels with a remarkably consistent ability to maintain their 'edge' in a culture that - while paradoxically being based around this mercilessly unwavering rhythmic pulse - constantly thirsts for new discoveries. One of these, the Stroboscopic Artefacts label as helmed by Luca "Lucy" Mortarello, regularly delivers material - particularly in its series of 'Monad' EPs - grounded in literary or mythological references, exhibiting a keen knowledge that the past holds the keys to the creation of the future more often than we might expect.
One of the latest offerings on the label, the untitled EP (catalog #SA020) from Lucy's own mastering collaborators Dadub, heralds Demeter's entrance into the underworld with an appropriately epic and oneiric piece entitled "Mistresses March." The track is a masterful exercise in contrasts that pairs a daunting martial beat with wind-blown, spectrally morphed passages unhurriedly rising out of the thick netherworld fog to take on a more distinct, if still undomesticated, melodic shape. In its ability to work as either a contemplative tool or as a spur to physical release (or maybe both simultaneously), this cinematically unfolding piece is as good a representative as any of Stroboscopic Artefacts' deep approach. This captivating, snaking, down-river journey is difficult to 'follow up,' yet two more EP tracks - done in collaboration with Grn and Retina.it, respectively - provide a nice enough afterglow. While both share just enough DNA with "Mistresses March" to provide the kind of continuity expected on an album-length recording, both provide a slightly more benign variation on the leadoff track's narrative quality. This is not to say that they are palliative chillout tracks: the Retina.it mix of '"Kykeon," in particular, has its cautious percolating groove gradually obscured by the sound of some airborne biomechanical craft hovering by on its nightly surveillance mission.
Dadub's new EP offering is suffused with the 'neither-here-nor-there' atmosphere that manages to resist the stereotype of techno as an exclusively "urban" phenomenon: this music could just as easily accompany a speeding trip through the urban wilderness of electric lights, or a stargazing reverie, or the rediscovery of one's own entopic visions in total blackness. Much the same can be said about the 'taster' remix EP for Lucy's upcoming Churches, Schools, and Guns album. Along with other producers such as Planetary Assault Systems and Speedy J (with whom Lucy collaborates as Zeitgeber), Lucy is at the forefront of a school of techno that exudes a Zen-like appreciation for the mutability of all things, including of course the emotional and psychic responses generated by music. The press materials themselves promise that the Churches… album will "ask more questions than it answers," and, sure enough, the title alone invites plenty of speculation as to how the items in this titular series relate or remain separate from one another. Are the first two items 'precursors' to the third, somehow? Or do these social institutions stand opposed to destructive tendencies? Or do they all overlap in a malicious Venn diagram of coercion and manipulation?
Even if you can capably answer these questions, then there's no guarantee they will also be able to determine how the music relates to this riddle, and one gets the impression that Lucy prefers things this way. Having not heard the album from which this new remix / "taster" EP comes from, it is not easy to say what features the reinterpretations share with the originals, but it is safe to surmise that both releases are built from the same sort of 'techno-organic' blueprint that informed Lucy's solid Wordplay for Working Bees LP. Like that record, this one is a strong study in how cohesion can be achieved from the most disparate of elements if an artist's ambition and focus are maintained throughout the course of the entire work. The stentorian, rending noise washes of the leadoff remix - Shapednoise's take on "Catch 22" - should be a world apart from the comparitively languid, rolling groove of Milton Bradley's "Laws and Habits" remix, yet they are very much congruent elements in the imaginary metropolis that we continue to revisit in each successive Stroboscopic Artefacts release. Eomac's remix of "The Self as Another" is a fine coda to this whole undertaking, characterized by fragile streams of melancholic, melodic content escaping from the ventilation ducts of the monolithic machine that powers the track along.
The material appearing on the Electric Deluxe label is compatible with Stroboscopic Artefacts' work in a number of respects, chief among them the way in which E.D. records rescue the sonic essentials from the various electronic music genres without bringing along any of the biographical or historical baggage otherwise associated with them. If the lack of self-referentiality and irony that accompanies these records is off-putting to some listeners, well, that's a pity, since many of these releases are easily able to generate dramatic atmospheres without the intervention of biographical storylines or with any kind of clear reference made to current affairs.
The new Electric Deluxe EP from the AnD production pair, Kundalini, is aptly named given that esoteric concept's status as a kind of purifying, fluid energy. The slamming, shuddering, industrialized beats that course through the EP might be 'violent' or 'harsh' in some other context - but the duo's understanding of strategic restraint keeps them from becoming the hyperbolic caricatures of aggression that sadly infect so much of electronic music's darker exponents. The same goes for the recurring, frantic sequencer passages that complement this duo's disciplined blasting. Two tracks on the EP bear titles that consists of recognizable human language ("The Jellyfish" and "Dysekt"), while the rest are indecipherable strings of characters - yet despite these two different titling schemes, each of the individual tracks are unified in their willful drive and their enthusiastic exploration of ever-present dread. When AnD lets up on their propulsive assault, the results can be equally engaging: "IcDbYc" is a loping, menacing number which weds the aformentioned distorted rhythms to a call-and-response between a nagging synth line and a queasy dialtone, in a way that is, yes, very 'IDM' in its sonic novelty and yet still stands on its own.
Like much of the best 'minimal' or dub techno, AnD's newer releases (see also their Features Vol. 3 EP on Repitch) are as much about 'ecstatic absences' as they are about the content that is loud, in-your-face, and inescapable in its photographic detail: this is especially notable during the brief 'dropout' pauses that re-energize the listener in much the same way as a virtuoso drum solo might within extreme metal music. Of course, the suggestion of 'something else' lurking beneath the silences remains one of the key principles of seduction, something that laughably failed dealers in fast-food eroticism (winks to Miley Cyrus) would do well to learn. As a whole, Kundalini is a record that strikes a great balance between emphatically revealing and refusing to reveal - as are all of the other titles in this 'roundup' of recordings.