Review: Stroboscopic Artefacts’ V (Chapter Two)

Stroboscopic Artefacts V Chapter Two

Stroboscopic Artefacts’s release of the series V – Five Years of Artefacts in celebration of its five-year anniversary invites us to consider the important role that the label has come to play in fostering some of the most thoughtful, daring, and sonically exquisite explorations in techno music today. The Berlin-based label, founded by Lucy and serving as a regular platform for artists the likes of Dadub, Eomac, Xhin, and Rrose, has made itself into a deep and expansive space where techno sounds seem free to live and develop into their own brilliant, other worldly and all too worldly forms. While much of the techno world continues to have its attention absorbed in the easy-listening sounds of Ibiza party music, Stroboscopic sets a standard for experimental music that challenges musical and cultural conventions and opens new kinds of listening and dance experiences rather than delivering the expected and easy kick. Operating primarily from the standpoint of dissidence, critique, and heterogeneity instead of the simple identification, absorption, and celebration that drives more facile electronic dance music experiences, techno from Stroboscopic Artefacts is almost invariably guaranteed to be capable of those simultaneous transporting experiences of, on the one hand, dislocation from socio-cultural reality and, on the other, ecstatic joy in creativity, movement, and sound that, for my taste, characterize the best of what techno can do.

That all sounds pretty heavy, but the question for me is what kind of fun, what kind of joyful experience is the music creating? The second chapter of the V series, just released, is all kinds of fun. An EP featuring two long tracks, one from Zeitgeber, Lucy’s collaboration with Speedy J, and one from Luke Slater’s LB Dub Corp alias, the release encapsulates for me some of the central features of the Stroboscopic sound and is simple and undeniable evidence of the important work the label is doing for techno. Let’s turn back the dials on the time machine for a moment. I trace several of what I regard as the abiding elements of good techno back to the genre of rock music experimentation in Germany in the early seventies that came to be labeled as Krautrock. Bands like Neu!, Faust, and Can pioneered music characterized by pairing rhythmic repetition with sonic architectures that variously soared, grinded, screamed, and droned new worlds of sound into being. Perhaps more importantly, their music engaged with modern experience in a way that was markedly different than the nostalgia and sentimentality of rock music or the narcissism and consumerism of pop music. That spirit of modernist critique in this movement took its most lasting form in the music of Kraftwerk, a music project that began in the field of early seventies psychedelic rock experimentation in the area of Düsseldorf and Cologne and that defined the “so stiff it’s funky” sound that was adopted as the constituent rhythmic element of techno music. I mention all of this not in any kind of move to legitimize the work released by Stroboscopic through comparison to some kind of authentic moment of origin for techno music, but because in my mind this new release echoes with that early experimentation in ways that surprised me–certainly in some specific musical elements, but primarily in the broader sense of total experimentation, perfection in craft, and straight up commitment to producing music that could be, depending on the track, deeply weird, fun, contemplative, zany, eerie, shocking, terrifying, or whatever kind of rich and deep atmosphere you can imagine.

Back to the future of techno–the two tracks on V – Five Years of Artefacts Chapter Two made a big impression on me because of the way they sound so fresh and underivative and yet so rooted in this decades-long tradition of electronic music experimentation in Germany. The Zeitgeber track, Totemism, is an eleven-minute journey through an eerie and beautiful landscape of rapidly ringing metallic sounds. At first fully atmospheric, a simple kick drum comes in to measure the time, and the journey through an oscillatingly fascinating and frightening world of sound truly commences. Atmospherically, the track is weirdly reminiscent to me of Negativland, the second track from Neu!’s first album in 1972. But just when I think I know the score, Lucy and Speedy J start to introduce a combination of shakers and synth-slides that funk the whole thing out. After a break and without any drastic alteration to the sound, the character of the song flips. It shuffles, loops, and slides with a kind of devil-may-care sense of fun over several excellent minutes until another break signals the slow return of the predominate and eerie ringing bells. It is a very cool composition.

L.B. Dub Corp’s contribution to the release, Take It Down Again In Dub, sounds like a intentional study in making music that’s “so stiff it’s funky.” Based on a simple straight kick beat, a goofy sounding double-struck rubber band twang, and a distorted clap, the track is almost ten minutes of dance floor silliness waiting to happen. Expansive, open, and self-assured in its square funkiness, the track adds at various times the spare sounds of woodblock hits, closed hi hat, and various other percussion, while mega-distorted atmospherics swell and subside in the background, and a deep voice informs us that “taking it down” is going on. Some seriously deep breaks give the various elements of the soundscape the chance to shimmer and shine and give the track time to rest before resuming on its relentlessly fun and funky way.

Chapter Two of Stroboscopic Artefacts’s V series is thoughtful, fun, and simply excellent sounding techno of the best kind. In celebrating its fifth year, the label seems only to be taking on steam and gearing up for another good five. For my interest in solid techno dance music made with a modernist critical edge and uncompromising aesthetic, Stroboscopic Artefacts most always delivers something fine.