Review: Chicago Skyway – Fall Down (Machine Dreams)

There is a line in ‘Johnny Mnemonic’, the short story by Sci-Fi writer Willian Gibson that has always been somewhere at the back of my mind when it comes to electronic music: “If they think you’re crude, go technical. If they think you’re technical, go crude.” Over the years this little quote could be used to sum up a lot of House and Techno. Countless artists move between the two extremes, but there is often a feeling that they’re playing at it. For a handful of producers, though, this duality of thought is a hallmark of their sound.

Sean Hernandez has often combined the two approaches under his Chicago Skyway guise, mixing the raw grunt of heavy machine rhythms with floating synths that recall the feel of the early pioneers. As a producer he’s seems to be just at home with snarling Acid tunes as he does with deeper, angelic strains of House. His last but one release, the I Don’t Give A Fuck Ep (Which was a split with Isoke) was a barking, nihilistic take on the genre that didn’t seem to garner the attention it probably deserved. Partly one of the reasons that EP was such a rich experience was the way in which it seemed to be at odds with the vast majority of the Lo-Fi House that surrounded it. It seemed the real deal; properly angry street music that rode home on its own rage.

The Fall Down EP is less angry sounding but still punchy in places, especially when compared to a lot of other records coming out just now. It has the tone of classic Chicago machine built jacking music hitched to a more modern nous. Most of the tracks actually keep the pace down. They’re lean too, all the fat trimmed off, reduced down to the bare minimum. The opener, Fall Down, is a brutally functional drum track with hounds the listener with thuggish toms and snares, and bursts of static that envelop the higher frequencies. It does nothing more than roll from the start to the finish, and wouldn’t have been out-of-place on that split EP with Isoke, but it spits fury as it moves which is something that is strangely rare in modern electronic music.

The other two tracks on the A-side are less kicking, more playful and laid back, but not as successful. Both Ride and Ride 3 try to bring more than machine work outs to their game. Ride is a slow bouncer. Nagging rather than insistent but still fun, although it suffers if the aural blast of the first track is still lingering in the ears. Ride3 is better, if only for the winding lead that recalls the ‘Alternative’ mix of Lil Louis’ classic Music Takes U Away. It needs a bit more urgency, though. Pitching it up coalesces its disparate parts, drying out the wash of sound that occasionally threatens to drown everything else beneath it, and kicking it up into a truer jacker.

The B-side is a more interesting proposition, mixing the crude and the technical to better effect. Leaf is far more certain than either of the Rides, a strident grooves latching onto a wiggling lead and some wildly pitched frequencies, it takes the blueprint of the A-side and runs with it before passing the baton to Mosquito which builds quickly into a gleefully atonal pounder that’s thick with Armani-esque qualities. It’s old school in the best possible way; a surefire rocker that grows and throbs with insouciant energy. Best track on the EP, though, is Praying Mantis where the mix of rough-hewn rhythms and golden, woozy pads come perfectly together. It’s a sultry creature; mournful yet life affirming. Potent enough to work a dance floor, especially when the grimy bass claws its way to the surface, and lazy enough to withstand repeated listens on an early morning walk home.