Review: DJ Stingray313 – Communication System (Barba Records)

DJ Stingray’s work to date has generally been one of the highpoint of modern electro. Having worked on his own productions since the mid 80s, before later becoming Drexciya’s tour DJ Sherard Ingram is a figure who looms large over the scene, a man with an undeniable pedigree and one responsible for some classic music under a handful of guises. While the last couple of years have been relatively quiet, they’ve at least contained enough bursts of activity to quell any fears he’s resting on his laurels.

There may not have been as much this year as previously (two full releases and a split with long time friend and collaborator Mariska Neerman on Bleep43 being the total of it) but what there has been points to an artists who may be transitioning from his traditional stomping grounds, moving to a point where some of the tight, claustrophobic edge of his music has been alleviated to make room for a growing sense of exploration and adventure.

The Drexciyan touches and the Detroitisms are still there of course, they’ve just been qualified, refined even, by a widening of the palette. It was a trait of his Cognition EP for Lower Parts; the traditional elements softened (not always overtly, though), allowing an increased feeling of experimentalism to dapple the music with unexpected light. The slower beats of a couple of tracks ushered the grooves into new directions, bathing the tunes in an aura of pathos that was unexpectedly introspective.

While Communication System continues in this shift towards something less easily defined by the old electro/techno binary, some of the touches and the moods on offer seem gleaned from the adolescent years of the early and mid nineties. This isn’t by way of homage, and Stingray certainly hasn’t gone for the easy route of lamping out a couple of ravey stoaters or chubby, over-weaned house numbers. Instead, this sense of returning to something older resides in the fabric of what is a very modern take on electro and techno. Communication System itself reduces the pressure of Stingray’s normally incisive drums without losing anything in the way of their usual complexity or breakneck speed. That subtle change alters the way the tune unfolds in an important way, accenting the anxiety of the synths and the little cascades of bleeps in a way reminiscent of The Black Dog’s more album based work. In fact, much of the EP is redolent with a sort of IDM-ish energy, although ‘energy’ is perhaps the wrong word; it feels more intellectualized than emotional, the narrative thickly noirish, and with a careful use of contrast which ramps up tensions without having to resort to tried and tested methods.

Only Ping truly restores the Drexciyan heritage to its place at the front at centre. The bass and rolling melody are pure Lardrossan in their poise and impact, but it adds more, expanding on that noir theme whilst constantly teasing you with hints of an explosive release which never comes, keeping the track on a tight leash throughout, and keeping the listener wrong footed with the volatile mood.

Communication System is not a record that will give itself to immediate dance floor satisfaction in the way some of Stingray’s other work does, but it doesn’t feel as if it is created primarily for that purpose. For all the shadow and tautness and velocity it’s a surprisingly bright record, in many ways echoing the Detroit hallmark of speed and beauty in combination which made so many of the original releases such eye openers. But while these elements have their place deep within each and every tune, it is the feeling that Stingray’s work is evolving into something different which colours the music. There has been a rediscovery of space between the beats and the notes which has allowed a new musicality to blossom, and the energy to be redirected into new places. The attitude has changed, the experimentalism wider, and the experience has become so much broader and deeper because of it.