Review: The Maghreban – Amok Time (Zoot Records)

One of the thing that baldy, grumpy old Techno-heads love to moan about the most these days is the relative ease and cheapness of getting involved in production. Coupled with innovations like digital delivery, they mutter, cheap gear and software has led to every herbert with a copy of Massive sticking a tune online and thereby ruining the sanctified preserve of the qualified muso and his cronies. It has also, they gripe, meant that there is an awful lot of shit out there to dig through.

Their first worry is a load of rubbish. Affordable music technology in the electronic world is having the same effect as affordable electric guitars and amps did in the sixties and seventies, and has brought in new faces and talent that may have once been locked out. Their second point may have some merit, although I’m not sure the level of mediocrity is any worse now than in the past (there were always plenty of real bad records – I should know, I own a lot of them), there is something to be said for a level of comfortable similarity. Perhaps one of the side effects of low prices has been a conformity of purchasing that, because everybody bought the same stuff, has led to a conformity of sound.

It is a testament, then, to The Magrheban that in his short career he has developed a sound that is almost as unique and recognizable as a fingerprint. His two previous releases for Zoot were marked with a blend of crunching analogue dirtiness, hypnotic, shifting rhythms and an ear for the sort of kitsch seldom found in ‘serious’ Techno that led to a disorienting yet intriguing blend that captured a powerful atmosphere of otherness that so much of the current ‘outsider House’ scene appears to strive for but usually misses.

His latest offering on Zoot represents a subtle reworking of the basic Maghreban formula. There is less of the dark kitsch of previous records, and less to the experimental pitch and yaw that almost defined the roll of the tunes. Instead, there has been a sharpening of aesthetics, and there is a new leanness that brings the groove forward and puts the soundplay on the back burner. The reward for these changes are a pair of swaggering tunes that move with a new potency without losing much in the way of scruffy charm.

Amok Time is the harder of the two, and the one that remains closest to the Maghreban’s previous work. The reverbed lasers and Casio trills that watermarked the previous releases are here still, but there is fierceness to the bass that is new. It has the heavy violence not of Techno but 80’s post-punk. You can almost hear the ghost of Magazine behind it in its low rent malice. Combined with the rippled riff of treblely guitar and galloping shakers, you have a track thick with drama and nervous energy that Barry Adamson would have been proud of, a cinematic stomper from the soundtrack of a cold war thriller.

The Empath is perhaps the straightest dancefloor tune The Maghreban has yet delivered. Although it comes from a very similar place to Amok Time, it’s billowing bass takes it in a different direction. The long peels of synth stalk it like empty shadows, the clatter of the drums chasing them away before the lead burrows its way into your brain. It’s more focussed too, and not only in the growing hypnogogic pulse, but in the way the relative simplicity has opened up the space for the groove to flourish. It’s both familiar but newly functional. An already unique producers putting a brand new stamp on things.