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Demdike Stare - Elemental Parts 1 & 2

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Artist: Demdike Stare

Album: Elemental Parts 1 & 2

Label: Modern Love

Review date: Jan. 17, 2012

Mancunian duo Demdike Stare, a.k.a. techno producer Miles Whittaker and Finder’s Keepers employee Sean Canty, has been one of the most exciting arrivals in popular music during the last two or three years. Taking the framework of techno and dub, and overlaying it with unrecognizable, messed-up horror movie samples, murky atmospheres and hypnotic drones, the pair has developed a signature style. Last year’s Triptych compiled three 2010 LPs and additional unreleased material into something approaching a ghostly techno opera. An undeniable masterpiece, Triptych featured prominently on many journalists’ end-of-year lists.

Whittaker and Canty are ready to ride the critical wave with Elemental, a quadruple album released in two parts. The first two records return to basics. Whittaker and Canty have long politely ignored Britain’s hauntology scene, and you get sense that they are focusing on the core elements of their sound. Where many tracks on Triptych were cinematographic in their scope, the tracks on Elemental feel almost sparse.

“Kommunion,” the opening track on part one, Chrysanthe, introduces this stripped-down approach. As distant sirens wail away beneath discreet vinyl crackles, a lightly plucked guitar emerges, dueting with a disembodied, moaning voice as waves of crackling drones crash and crumble around the mix. Mid-way through, the track switches to a sort of disjointed mutant techno, thumping, off-kilter beats sparring with a wall of impenetrable static. Many of the intricacies that made Liberation Through Hearing and Forest of Evil on Triptych so “vast” are stripped away, leaving Demdike Stare at its most propulsive and abrasive.

“Mephisto’s Lament,” for example, features throbbing bass grooves and hesitant rhythms redolent of the dubstep scene, though they are subsumed under high-pitched noises and a chilling sampled choir. “Unction” is all sinister clatters and terrifying sound effects. These tracks build and build, with their various elements looping around one another like confused snakes. There’s never any climax or breaking point, just an increased sense of claustrophobia. If Whittaker and Canty have made their sound less expansive, they are doing so with their usual bleak outlook, this time unalleviated by Triptych’s softer elements.

In fact, much of Elemental, especially the second part, Violetta, owes a debt of influence to early eighties British industrial music. The insistent, yet aggressive, percussion, in tracks like “In the Wake of Chronos” and “Mnemosyne” wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Cabaret Voltaire or SPK record, although the sound of those bands has been filtered through dub, hip-hop and techno here. Even when the pair inject unexpectedly exotic ingredients, such as the Middle Eastern sounds on “Mnemosyne” or the weird folk snippet “Untitled Loop,” it still feels like this music would sound best played in a dank abandoned warehouse on the edge of Sheffield.

Given Canty’s involvement with Finder’s Keepers, it’s hardly surprising that much of Demdike Stare’s music feels like it could be a soundtrack to a horror movie set in their native Lancashire (hence the temptation to include them in the hauntology canon). But where Triptych’s scope seemed to take in Britain’s Northern netherworld in all its diversity, from dark forests to sweeping moors, Elemental feels tailor-made for the decaying former industrial towns and cities that dot the region. Of course, most of these cities have seen major regeneration since their nightmarish eighties’ nadir, but Demdike Stare manages to convincingly create a darkly poetic vision of dystopian Northern English cityscapes. This is music for crumbling factories, abandoned lots, constant rain and endlessly clanking machinery. The closing track, “Violetta,” is the perfect embodiment of this grim aesthetic: distorted sequencers and clanging piano chords burst into hissing sounds of overloaded pipes and faint synth melodies. The swirling, hesitant and unsettlingly elegant melodies of “Caged in Stammhein” and “Forest of Evil” seem very far away once you’ve been through the broiling clang of “Violetta.” It’s a sonic overload worthy of Throbbing Gristle, and one of Demdike Stare’s most troubling tracks to date.

The term “elemental” evokes notions of ghosts and unquiet spirits, as well as the core elements of Whittaker and Canty’s music. A sparser, more direct approach has made some of these tracks feel like mere sketches, though ones that will haunt you for quite some time. But on Elemental Parts 1 & 2, Demdike Stare have managed to move forward while retaining what makes them so special : a singular ability to channel the unnerving.

By Joseph Burnett

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