Danish DJ and producer Troels Knudsen has been involved in music for a long time. In electronic terms he first came to the worlds attentions as part of the Drum n Bass act Pyro and the industrialized Techno outfit Northern Structures. More recently he’s been doing his own thing under the Ctrls moniker, forging a strong and singular identity across four Eps for Belgian label Token records, the home of several notable Techno luminaries such as Inigo Kennedy, Phase and Go Hiyama.
Although the label is probably better known for pushing the harder side of the Techno spectrum, Ctrls output sits at a slight angle to the rest. Over the span of his releases, he’s created and refined a sound that edges into the same territory as his label-mates, but – fittingly given his handle – never gives up control over his rich and potent sounds.
And sounds is what it’s all about here. There is a strand of Techno philosophy which holds that Techno is all about sound design. It’s not necessarily a view-point I agree with, but it’s difficult to fault in connection with whats on offer here. Movements three tracks are crisp and quick, often recalling previous moments in the genre’s evolution without ever sounding anything other than fresh.
The Opener, Shift is a lesson how to build, rising through a murky fog of electronic pulses and clangs, and chaperoned by razor-sharp hats, it’s kicks falling away time and again only to return to herd the rest of the tune to a distant point clearly seen by Knudsen’s eye for detail. The Second track Sweep explores similar country, except with a slight mechanical harshness added into it and a snapping bass line that puts one in mind of vintage Jeff Mills or Robert Hood. In fact, those two Detroit greats are brought to mind more than once during the track in the way the simple riff glitters and catches the light of the surprising funkiness, whilst being a sight more laidback about it than either of those two Motor City heroes.
It’s the closer, Stop that’s the best of the bunch, and it’s a very potent example of what Ctrls has become known for. It wouldn’t have sounded out-of-place on his earlier Interface EP from 2012, and in fact sounds like a bed fellow of that records Socket, which remains probably his best known tune. The difference is that where Socket was a ramrod straight banger, there is a looseness to Stop that ups the vibe considerably, the percussion seeming to coil and uncoil around the rhythm, like a metallic serpent, pulsing the tune in heartbeat long bursts.
Although we might as Techno fans decry the use of the term ‘DJ tool’ there is little doubt that this trio is designed with the dance floor in mind, but, in saying that, they retain a focus, craftmanship and vision that set them apart from the mass of Big-Room peak time identikit thumpers that have come to define a certain style of Techno over the last few years. Ctrls music might well, in some senses, be almost text-book Techno in terms of his palette of bangs and clanks, but whats interesting is how very few people are actually making music like this. And that’s where his strength lies – you might think you’ve heard it all before, but you really, really haven’t – and before you realise that, he’s taken you by surprise. Excellent stuff.