I’ve caught whispers that have been drifting in from the fringe about something called minimal electro a few times recently. While I’m not really sure what it means, or what would differentiate it from all the stripped down electro records that have made such a mark on the scene over the last 20 odd years, it’s an interesting pointer to the genre’s increasing popularity; after all, it tends only to be when a scene has reached a certain level of saturation that it begins to fragment into ever smaller parts.
Not that you could really describe Microlith’s Dance With Me EP as minimal. What the record has in common with minimal, or deep, or any other offshoot of electro which comes armed with a snazzy prefix, is that it benefits from the blossoming of electro’s influences and interests over the last couple of years. As much as I love the genre – and, by God, I do love it – only the most diehard fan would argue that, historically, it hasn’t always been the most outward looking scene, with many producers over the years preferring to Del Boy themselves at the shadier end of the electronica market, selling tunes with more than a passing resemblance to Drexciya or Kraftwerk, rather than embrace new pastures and new horizons.
Dance With Me, composed of choice cuts taken from the same named album, doesn’t really push on into the future either; we’re not talking about electro 2500AD here. What it does attempt, though, sounds fresh, upfront, and excitingly modern even though the primary influences are locked into electronica’s heritage. And it uses those influences well, neatly sidestepping both the Kraft-ciyan cycle and the deeper sounds that seem to be dominating at the moment.
Which isn’t to say that it isn’t deep. it is, properly so in fact. What it might lack in drawn out cosmic pads, carefully unobtrusive beats and a burgeoning sense of its own form so common elsewhere at the moment, it more makes up for in the interplay of beautiful and playful melodies and their marriage to a rich, expanding musicality. In many ways, it’s in this tight and orchestrated approach that those influences shine through. There is more than a little of early IDM to the sound – a sound which itself grew out of a desire to create something other than flat-footed dancefloor techno – and it angles itself with a similar subtlety and meaning.
It goes beyond this, though. Bouncy Castle and Dance With Me itself might venture closest to the border between modern electro and the likes of Autechre or – perhaps even more fittingly – classic Spanners era Black Dog, but they give themselves enough leeway to avoid the over familiar. Both tunes reverberate with a joyous, gentle energy that’s as much acid house as IDM, and accent the mood with golden little riffs of synth and chirping melody. Dance With Me in particular with its happy-go-lucky charm simply echoes with the delights of its loose, curious motifs and shimmering chords.
There are other facets, particularly on the B-side where the vibe tightens and contrasts increase, with both Rain Dance and Leave Now adding little touches of synth-pop to the mix. While Leave Now occasionally seems to dip in its energy levels, feeling at times a little fragile and uncertain, Rain Dance closes things off with a beguiling trip to the stars, rolling out on endless moonlit strings and a sense of quiet adventure. Dreamlike, haunting, and happy – Dance With Me is electro growing up and taking it first step into a wider world.