As I admitted a few months ago I was late coming to the Lobster Theremin party. There are reasons for that, chief amongst them a certain cynicism of their growing cachet that was borne not of anything they had or hadn’t done, but as a result of a handful of other labels that professed to plough the same left-of-centre House and Techno furrow and whom had been hoisted up to great heights whilst doing very little to warrant such adulation. I suspected that the words ‘Clothes’, ‘Emperor’ and ‘New’ might be figuring largely in any review I wrote.
So I was wrong. Over the course of 2014 they have gone from being an interesting yet unremarkable label into one consistently putting out exceptional records whilst cocking a snook to genre and expectations. Such genre agnosticism – while a very British trait – is always the sign of a healthy label with its own ideas. But of all the various flavours they’ve offered up, the harder end of the Techno spectrum has so far avoided too much attention.
Mystic Vision is Snow Bone’s second record for Lobster this year. The first, Remote Viewer, was pretty hard yet lightened by a finely twisted sense of aesthetics and playfulness that hurled it towards left field. It was good enough, in fact, that the Jared Wilson remix of Sho 5537 didn’t detract attention from the rest of the record’s highlights. Snow Bone’s follow-up, Mystic Vision, picks up where he left off with some genuinely heavy and explosive warehouse tracks that once again refuse to simply conform to the monolithic slab of noise syndrome so characteristic of modern Techno.
All four of the offered tracks are grimy, noisy floor-shakers and yet they all carry a deep artfulness that is similar to a lot of the material put out by labels like Berceuse Heroique or Trilogy Tapes (both those labels being the closest to what Lobster Theremin is currently doing). What defines Snow Bone’s work however is the fact that much of it – once you sluice of the filth and grit – are superbly crafted and danceable movers that are able to move the body as much as stroke the chin. And that’s a rare claim.
The title track is a loose jacker that convulses over falling toms and a growing sense of dread. The looped, distorted squall that sets the tone soon dissipates into an unsettling background whisper and by the time the percussion rings into life, attended by caustic acidic stabs, the track has morphed from it cyber-goth beginnings into something almost anthemic, tinged with the light playing off an alien ocean. It’s a powerful statement of intent.
And it’s an intent realised on Dutch Hater which continues to delve into that strange half-lit alien glimmer. A spray of percussion, the clatter of claps and a weird, squirted one note riff are bound together by the relentless, claustrophobic groove which threatens to open up into a fierce acid workout but actually pulls you deeper into the rising panic. It’s a cracker of a tune, but it’s going to mess with you big time. It’s set on the knife-edge of nervous exhaustion and is no place for beginners or charlatans; if you don’t handle it right, it’ll cut you, and cut you bad. It’s so dark, so lithe and mean it makes the vast majority of Techno records released this year look like stumbling oafs.
The B-side opens with Lost In Machine Code. Like the elsewhere on the record it does its work not with speed or a storm of sound but with finely created grooves and attention to the details. When Boomkat once described Ancient Methods as ‘Pitch black Techno War Funk’ they could have been describing this. The real meat of the track isn’t in the bounce of the rhythm though but in the golden coil of the slowly emerging riff that reaches out almost imperceptibly for most of the tunes length before engulfing you.
Manse’s remix of Machine Code cedes the frayed mindset of the original for a straighter blast of heavy warehouse Techno. On another record it might be a stand out but here – just as with the Wilson remix on the first record – it can’t really compete with living in such close proximity to Snow Bone’s crazy eyed adepts. There is a lesson there. Sometimes remixes just aren’t needed. Sometimes the original just says all that needs to be said and sometimes the artist is the best interpreter of his own will and vision. And Snow Bone is a producer with a particularity singular vision. Another stand out on a label that is growing in confidence with every release.