Hard techno is a form of electronica that sometimes gets a bit of unfair criticism from people – myself included – but often it is a genre which doesn’t go out of its way to challenge many of the preconceptions about the music. Its reputation for humourlessness and overt masculinity is largely justified, and while the image it projects of a type of shaven headed, all male, no-girls-allowed gurn-fest is often amplified in the minds of people who would more likely cross the street to avoid it, I don’t think there are too many who would deny that it’s a scene which refuses to make allowances. You either accept it on its own terms or you don’t. There is little lee-way.
Which is probably a bit of a shame, not least for the fact that hard techno is a genre devoted to a level of experimentalism and cerebralism not often seen elsewhere these days. Of course, like other genres you tend to have to dig away a little bit to get there. But once you get past the strata of one dimensional bangers and the muddy layer of material composed of decaying 1995 era Mills, there are some real diamonds to be collected.
Italian producer Pasquale Ascione, co-owner of REPITCH recordings and 3TH surfaces here on Black Sun, a label that has long been responsible for bringing us proper techno from a host of well kent names such as AnD, Sunil Sharpe and Blawan. It’s a good fit; Ascion’s entry into their stable has furnished us with a record that feels accessible while not giving so much as an inch of ground.
Partly, I suspect this accessibility comes from the way the beats on the record do not feel like markers ticking off the seconds until the next breakdown or wall of sound. Although they remain heavy, a thick welter of bass, they are re-imagined as something else. It is tempting at first to think of them as relegated to tonal duties; providing a stern background against which the subtler textures can make their presence felt. But I’m not sure that this is really the case. You only have to note their cyclic and deeply organic nature on Ulm, say, to realise that the rhythm provides far more. They swell throughout the track, growing stronger as each pulse of the music is completed, and in fact it is the whispy pads that guide you towards their rising tide. Even the percussion, so often perfunctory in techno, blends in with this rolling thunder, accenting the kicks, and lending them a razor edge.
It is a trick repeated on Hiutax, where the experiment is extended into borderline tribal territory. The loose stepping beats, with their percussive chaperone, are textured with the gentlest touches of reverb giving the track a weirdly detached and distant feel that is further emphasised by the woozy nature of the pads and the strangely discordant ringing textures that haunt the background. It’s wonderfully effective, a collision of emotions and memories; a party on the very edge of the event horizon.
On the other tracks, Junkers and 1999_JH51, there is a lesser sense of this weirding, otherly atmosphere. Junkers, with its acidic snarl, is perceptibly straighter even though the beats remain skewed. But it works just as well, especially as the refusal to let the track drift into pounding, 4/4 normality allows a festering sense of dread and panic to settle into place; it’s like taking a wrong turn into a bad part of town and not realising it until it’s too late. There is something in it that reminds me of Claude Young in his excellent Djax Upbeats phase; brawn refined by genuine brains.
1999_JH51 is just as stark as the other tracks, but perhaps lacking a bit of their vitality. The beats are just a little bit too pronounced after their fine usage elsewhere, the synths and sci-fi effects a little too prominant. Even so, it unfolds with a similar sense of restrained violence, a radioactive bloom slowly settling over the city, turning the listener away from the open and into the depths of the shadows for protection. A fine EP, then, where the threat and the promise converge.