Thursday, July 24, 2003
Jess (who is thankfully blogging again) wonders if enjoying Kaito and Smallville more than other contemporary Kompakt releases is a sign that the end is nigh for microhouse. This reminds me somewhat of my earlier thoughts that maybe "traditionalist" microhouse was nearing its use-by date as a creative well-spring. Of course Jess is talking about a much broader spectrum of stuff than I was, since he's including shuffletech in the category of "slight" whereas I was using it against the MRI strawman (disclaimer: MRI roxx u are all gay).

I find a great deal of renewed vigour when contemplating that increasingly this broad vague area of stuff we call microhouse is defined by a certain wilfully perverse sensibility rather than any strict stylistic markers - such that I'd argue that Kaito and Smallville should rightfully be considered to be representative of microhouse's expansiveness rather than as an alternative to it. More than a genre, microhouse feels to me like a landscape: there's a highly spatial quality to the stylistic differentiation goin' on, and it makes me want to construct narratives wherein one record acts as a halfway house for two others, where some tracks are in high density metropolises and others are stuck out at lonely frontier outposts. The overriding emphasis is one of movement: not only do these tracks and records (especially the DJ mixes) imply a stylistic journey from point A to B, but they also invite the imagination to go further and ask, "what would happen if we took this sound that way?"... such that lush neo-trance or beatless ambience are or should be as natural potential components as the staple house boom-tick. With no purist plunge to the centre, the emphasis is not on the destination but the journey, and all the strange sounds on the way.

One transition we could posit: Areal Records' Bis Neun is a response to the journey travelled from Immer to Friends, a leapfrogging into territory that the second record looked out upon. Immer set the benchmark for moody metallic minimalism (the existential melodrama of the romantic cyborg), all gleaming and glittering surfaces and hard angles. Perhaps in response, Friends took this blueprint and reintroduced the possibility of the abject, of a certain sinuous slimy liquidness that Immer had gone to great lengths to abolish (I'm thinking of the T-1000 in Terminator 2, the way it shatters, melts, and morphs back together in a manner that is neither robot nor human, but an unnerving combination of the two). Bis Neun is a further, and more explicit, attempt to emphasise the messy physicality of the cyborg. Despite its unabashed electro affiliations, there's a certain undeniable fleshiness to its groove, a suggestion of metallic limbs encased and ensnared by roping musculature and tentacular circulatory systems. It's a vision of the post-human that's both complex and slightly inarticulable, and it makes this album endlessly fascinating.

In this sense Areal Records have done for electro what long stretches of Herbert's Let's All Make Mistakes does for bassy minimal tech: reaffirmed its potential as music of the body. "Body" in the sense of "bodily functions" - a roadmap of all the too-intimate, uncomfortable physical processes that allow us to live. Sex (and a lot of it) obviously, but also digestion, movement, the enshrouding thump of the heart powering blood cells in complex chemical interactions. So you get a track like Metope's 'Selvsyn", which is basically a gigantic electronic shudder, jittery little synth motifs and bass burbles tightly compressed around a compulsive in-and-out reflex that could be a direct recording from the inside of a ventrical. "Selvsyn" is pretty impressive in the way that it unifies electro's divergent impulses (towards and away from the house thump) into a house groove that's about to shatter under the forces required to keep it pumping. Metope strikes me as a bit of a genius: other tracks by him range from the decaying-isotope dystopia of "Magnetic" (house groove as an deadly infectious disease) to the robots-on-quaaludes funk of "Livedriver" (with vocals by Ada), all refracted through a stylistic approach that could be described as "LFO joins the Perlon roster".

Again like Let's All Make Mistakes, this track and the whole mix are literally strewn with mistakes, not the product of bad mixing but rather indicative of a taste and sensibility for messiness, for a wildly rampant and random level of uncontrollability that is characteristic of the biological. Snaky bass riffs, unidentifiable sample-snippets (dogs screaming in pain?), clattering snares and hi-hats and hastily programmed kick drums all compete for attention; unlike MRI's perfectly dovetailing arrangements, I frequently get the sense listening to tracks like Basteroid's (appropriately titled) "Aggrobatik" that all the component elements are simply doing their own thing and their interaction to form the groove is entirely coincidental. Basteroid has this wonderful propensity for squelchy snare/hi-hat arrangements that, while retaining house's requisite sexual content, have a certain overdriven aggressiveness to them belies their rhythmic precision (think of the delicious menace of many Green Velvet productions). The best example of this here though is actually on Konfekt's "Jez(Sof)", where a bone-snapping jack beat is framed by inversely skeletal synth motifs. Sort of microhouse-by-implication, "Jez(Sof)" is only "minimal" in the sense that it actually does away with all that is delicate or lush or technical in house, leaving just that monomaniacal body-instructor: in out in out in out.

In terms of harshness, Bis Neun isn't exactly Spiecher, but in its own messy way it can still get pretty brutal at times. I really like this. I can be pretty guilty of over-privileging microhouse's implied femininity; to do so ignores that so much of what makes this music compelling (its sensuality, fleshiness and physicality) are not automatically feminine traits except insofar as we might imagine that the female retains some stronger connection to "nature" (whatever). If techno plugs into the mythology of the machine, there's always a reverse-but-complementary impulse within dance to regress into some sort of pre-rational realm of hyper-physicality, a dionysiac debasement of the mind in favour of the id and the body working in uninterrupted tandem. This isn't a feminine trait but rather an animalistic one, and it leads to violence and brutality as surely as it does to sex or dancing. Right now what strikes me as vaguely unique about Bis Neun (although that uniqueness comes with a big fucking caveat in the form of Let's All Make Mistakes) is how it seems to unify the trends by offering a vision of the machine in the act of physical debasement, of cyborgs regressing - a vision as compelling as it is illogical.


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