Aside from all the new age house, the rebooted dark side rave, and the various spangly shades of future garage, one of the growing buzzes this year comes from the weird mogadon stomp of Detroit’s sludge scene. When the first couple of records from the scene’s corner-stone label, How To Kill, arrived in Casa Scribe a couple of years back now I was not, I admit, overly bowled over even if the music did have something. Odd half speed electroid styling, records pressed so that they could be played at both 33 and 45 and a sense that everything was on the verge of falling apart had me wondering exactly what was going on. Still, there were undeniable grooves bubbling away under the muck; there was enough to warrant a second look.
Since then, sludge has become a cause celebre in some places, with an increasing number of scribbling bods getting carried away with its raw charms. This is all well and good, but a part of me wonders whether sludge would be getting the same level of attention had it come out of Manchester or Rome or Rotterdam. Has the fact it hails from Detroit lent sludge a certain bespoke authenticity it doesn’t altogether deserve? Perhaps, yes. Certainly there is plenty of music out there currently that bears more than a passing resemblance but has garnered little of the kudos.
In the end, though, it’s always better to let the music do the talking. In the case of Speaker For The Dead, that’s easy enough to do. Shady P, co-founder of How To Kill delivers four tracks that immediately fuck with sludge’s conventions, delivering something that is perhaps noticeably lighter in tone than one would expect from the scene’s media coverage. The more mucky end of the sludge spectrum is kept in check, the grooves allowed more space to roam which, in turn, allows the funk to come to the fore.
But even given that it is a more pronounced and straight up techno record than you might expect, it’s not like we’re dealing with Chris Liebing or anything. Speaker For The Dead remains as sleazy and dirty example of gutter techno as you could hope for. Even its most conventional track, the clattering and ever so slightly Millsian A Man In Reverse is a grimy banger that rides on thick spreads of bass and quirky, nervy fills and noise that ramps up the tension. It’s one real failing, I think, is that it does sail so close to the common place. It’s not a bad tune, in fact it’s a very good one, but its very familiarity dulls its impact slightly.
It’s a theme of sorts, although other tunes coax grooves out of a deeper mash of sound. Where Pavlov’s Bitch and EDM Is A Poor Attempt At Appropriation run similar patterns to A Man In Reverse , they cloak themselves in a taut and anxious energy tempered by a slight cheekiness, especially on EDM… which quickly rolls into a long, fluid number that draws you in with its flickering synths. Pavlov’s Bitch stalks a similar hinterland. The playfulness is more malicious, though, draping its techno framework with rags of white noise.
The strongest note here is All Night Long, a smasher of buckling free running frequency and bruised bass where the beats seem to run into themselves with the gleeful abandon of moshers. It’s just a great piece of nasty, darkside skank, bordering on a sort of filthy old school acid techno vibe that doesn’t rear its head so much anymore. It’s the heaviest thing on the EP by a mile, and it works so well precisely because it eschews a lot of what went before it, replacing elements with a welter of barely restrained noise.
Whether or not Speaker For The Dead answers my question on the Detroit link adding a certain amount of unjustified hype is difficult to say. Perhaps it is better to ask whether given the quality of the music on offer, it matters at all. That is a fairly unequivocal ‘no’. As for the music itself, Speaker For The Dead has it’s moments, many of them in fact, with All Night Long and Pavlov’s Bitch being particularly demented highlights, and it doesn’t matter at all where they call home.