Review: DJ Phlowgod – Mantha EP (Echovolt)

Echovolt’s output over the last few years has amounted to a great example of the ways in which a label can smartly predict the directions in which the scene might go whilst remaining true to a particularly opened minded musical vision. In their case, the Greek outfit have delivered class releases by relatively well known producers such as Steve Summers, Simoncino and Entro Senestre (all now L.I.E.S alumni), provided a testing round for some of the Danny Wolfer’s various guises, curated some genuinely interesting rediscoveries by the likes of Boyd Jarvis and Colonel Abrams, and put out a host of other records which are rarely less than excellent examples of everything that is good in the contemporary underground.

The addition of DJ Phlowgod to the roster is a good fit. The Milanese producer furnishes the label with his first full release (I think) and immediately strikes off on his own with a collection of tracks that gathers together a love of rugged beats, old school touches, and a strong sense of their place in modern techno.

The crumbly nature of the sound work (occasionally indistinct shapes moving under a mist of hiss and fuzz) lends Mantha something of outsider house’s deliberate roughness, and it would almost be possible to see this as a late entry into that canon if it weren’t for the fact that, generally, these impressions are very much of a superficial nature. There is a real point of departure between Phlowgod’s sound and that of outsider house’s marshy tunage in the way he cuts through the sonic drizzle with a far more keenly developed sense of the music’s emotional impact; Tunes like Downtown and MAS push through the murkiness, stripping out much of modern techno’s overly self-regarding relationship with the aesthetics of sound, preferring instead to use the chatter of percussion and the surprisingly heavy beats to furnish strong grooves. That they contain more than nods to both the frequencies and mood of early 90s techno is by the by – they don’t come across as pale homages to a distant era. And while the synth work – such as we find across the collapsing tensions of Anthem, for example – sometimes show a tendency towards the smudged, they at least carry sharp enough barbs that they can hook into the more solidly underlying flesh, using them to draw together the muscle and the mind.

While there are moments when his use of a scruffy – albeit impressively realised – analogue sound threaten to bury these approaches in a needlessly thick blanket of fog, and accidentally steal attention away from the true impact of the music, you at least never sense that it’s done out of a baser need to score extra kudos points, which is a complaint easily leveled at more than a handful of movers and shakers in the current underground. That aside though, it isn’t the surface noise that leaves the lasting impression but the music and, in particular, Phlowgod’s knack of coaxing lively, vital grooves out of a shimmering and fragile sonic world, which is exactly how it should be.

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