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Artist: Emptyset

Album: Emptyset

Label: Caravan Recordings

Review date: Nov. 16, 2009


Emptyset - "Gate 1" (Emptyset)


Emptyset (James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas) hail from Bristol, home of some of dubstep’s most innovative producers, from Pinch to Peverelist to Headhunter and Gemmy. But though the duo’s sound is heavy on the low-end, their music strays far from dubstep’s ground zero – farther even than the most intrepid producers of the Bristol-meets-Berlin dubstep/techno hybrid like Appleblim and Peverelist. Emptyset retain only the faintest hints of dubstep’s gravitational pull. Would the connection even bear mentioning if they weren’t from Bristol? Probably not.

The name is itself a sign, pointing you to the duo’s primary influence: Mika Vainio’s longstanding minimal techno solo project, Ø. But their music is not a simple homage to the icy glories of records like Metri or Olento. Emptyset is its own dark, pristine animal and on their eponymous debut, they’ve produced an album of adventurous, exquisitely produced techno of the first order.

The album begins with almost three minutes’ of ominous sub-bass and quavering hum – no beats, all atmospheric dread – before loosening its limbs with two tracks ("Gate 1" and "Gate 2") of supremely minimal dub swing. They seem to be channeling the spirit of Chain Reaction (circa 1996); it’s all warm gray, rather than ice cold.

Not everything is as coolly inviting. Over its course, the album builds in noisy intensity – think a less funky Alva Noto or a less metronymic Pan Sonic – as the sounds get increasingly saw-toothed and ragged-edged with blasts of static and sharp-elbowed beats. Some of the album’s finest moments come when Emptyset are at their most abrasive.

Eventually, it subsides whence it came, into pixilated pools of white noise and deep, deep bass. Though you can trace Emptyset’s lineage down to a variety of roots, this still feels surpassingly innovative (if not always dancefloor friendly). It’s one of the most exciting techno full-lengths in quite some time.

By Susanna Bolle

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