Al Matthews is a man who has cut an interesting path for himself through the techno jungle, first as part of Forward Strategy Group (still the best name in techno, as far as I’m concerned) – often described as ‘industrial’ but always cleverer than that – and then with his Bleaching Agent guise which stripped down the components of his FSG work to a set of bare, scything grooves that seemed to thrive away from the spotlight of his bigger act.
More recently he has appeared as one half of Blacknecks, an outfit that took distorted, acidic jacking techno on a heavy night out before drowning it in a bath of cider and painting a comedy moustache on the corpse. It is a project that seems to have split opinion and would appear to be particularly disliked by the same people who thought Blawan’s Why Do The Hide The Bodies Under My Garage was the embodiment of EVERYTHING-THAT-IS-WRONG-IN-TECHNO because, you know, making music that is fun and people like is tantamount to genocide. They’re probably right; we probably should all be listening to the sort of drone stuff from 1981 that Boomkat keeps finding in people’s attic and puts on sale. As we all know techno is a very serious thing, and it is far too important to infect with smiles.
Anyway, I digress. But there is an important point there hidden amongst the scorn. Matthews’ new project, Uretran, might be a million miles away from Blacknecks furious stomp and infectious humour but it is as emblematic of his recent shift into a more open and jacking style as either of his other two post FSG projects. Sonically, At The Rotary Club is closer to Bleaching Agent than Blacknecks but there is a lighter mood common to all three which puts him at odds with a lot of the current techno scene, and even with his other projects like Smear or Retail & Leisure.
At The Rotary Club, then, is a double-header with attendant remixes that manages to mix fairly straight 4/4 techno with a spark of unexpected experimentalism and humour. At The Rotary Club itself is deceptively simplistic. on first listen it might seem little more than a long straight builder content to go from A to B is a kind of warm, mid tempo and meandering way. Fuzzy Robotic claps and wonky chords amble along pleasingly enough for most of the tracks length, but it transforms itself about three-quarters of the way through as the chords suddenly open into sultry Detroity expansiveness that lends the tune a soulful and introspective air before closing shop and continuing on its way.
1000AD is the more impressive of the two original tracks. A throbbing kick and a deep and prowling bass lay down a firm groove before the introduction of a seriously deranged organ riff that winds the tune into a strangely Chi-town workout. It’s like some crazy B-side from a classic Relief Records release. While it’s all about the groove it is also something else – it’s catchy; it’s insistent in a way you don’t often get from techno. I reckon if you whacked up the pitch fader you could wreck some people with this.
Both the remixes take themselves off into other territory, as remixes should. Kommune 1’s mix of At The Rotary Club is a deep shade work out designed for the heavier floors and, strangely, is closer to Forward Strategy Group’s material than anything Matthews has done recently. It crackles with a detached malice, the retooled chords of the original adding a thread of silvery energy that lends it a corrosive funk somewhat like an old Kenny Larkin tune has wondered into the wrong side of town, got beaten up, and taken things to heart.
Sunil Sharpe’s mix of 1000AD pushes the snarls to the front with a warped circus of snapping beats and static spikes that beat up on what little remains of the original. it’s exhilarating and demented but never quite as heavy as either you or it thinks it is, mainly due to the glint in its eye that lets you know just how seriously unserious it really is.