Review: Various Artists – Mechatronica 002 (Mechatronica)

It might be another year but electro’s fascination with the various artist sampler format shows little interest in stopping. In the next few weeks we have VAs from the likes of Libertine, Stilleben, Brokntoys and Cultivated Electronics on their way, and you can put money on more of them appearing as the next 12 months progress. It’s a fine enough way of doing it, even more so when you consider that the burgeoning interest in the genre will probably benefit in the long term as more people with scant knowledge of the scene come onboard and find a pile of records offering a quick lesson in what’s out there. It’s not always the easiest genre to get into, remaining as it does rather more esoteric than either house or techno, so anything which allows new blood an inroad is to be welcomed.

Although this is only Berlin label Mechatronica’s second ever release, what is already becoming very clear is that they certainly have a taste and an ear for some fine electro. Their first record brought together some real scene veterans in the form of Luke Eargoggle, Sync 24, and UHU and this second collection carries a roster every bit as impressive with Dez Williams, Fleck E.S.C, and Umwelt signing on for all manner of breakbeaty shenanigans.

Where a noticeable amount of the new electro in 2016 was either trying to redefining deepness, or refracting the colder glare of synthwave or IDM into a more modern brightness, Mechatronica’s second release eschews such careful approaches for four tunes which operate on a far more joyfully instinctual level. Even though the beats rarely accelerate towards the light bending speed that is so common at the harder end of the genre, each piece brings a sense of disparate artists operating at the sharp edge of the current scene, and paying more attention to grooves and grunt than to carefully constructed atmospherics. And that’s pretty much how we like it around here.

First up are a pair of relative newcomers. It’s possible that I’ve heard work by either Dmitry Distant or Igors Vorobjovs without being aware of it, but their entry here, the tight, jacking thunder of Cold Scape stands on its own feet. It pulls at the same chunk of the brain as classic Metroplex does, and indeed mainlines a similar vibe to Model 500’s more militant moments. But rather than simply dump a pile of nostalgia on us, it pushes beyond the realm of homage. The sound is thicker than Model 500, and swarms with micro touches; the robotic, rolling hypnotism of the bassline vying for your attentions with washes of chilled pads which bind the machine grooves to something looser and iridescent. As debuts go this is a kicker. I can’t wait to hear a full release.

Dez Williams tune, the stalking, hacking Only Way I know is far calmer than much of the work he turned in towards the end of last year without losing touch of his trademark sense of compressed funk. The track pitches somewhere between hip hop and classic electro, but tears down much of the building work, only to work it back up into a slowly unfolding slice of industrialized moodiness which force feeds the machines with some malicious, darkside, rave energy. Nowhere near as bleeding ears hard as a lot of that recent work, it’s actually more effective for it. One to play when things are getting messy; a thought, in fact, which might sum up the record.

It might be particularly true of the other pair of tracks, Umwelt’s Mankind Origin and Fleck E.S.C’s Dimmer Set Up. I’m corralling them here together because they share a pulse with each other, particularly in the way they both trawl through electro’s more or less recent past to provide building blocks of sound and attitude. Although both tunes (and the Umwelt one in particular) owe a debt to Electro-noir, neither fixate on that approach. They are far too messy for a start, swapping cold and clinical tones for static bursts of percussion and condensed, repressed, sonic malice. On Mankind Origin this meanness accents the frosty top end, clawing it away from its precision engineering until it becomes bleaker, creepier, dragged in the dirt. On Dimmer Set Up Fleck E.S.C unleashes barely restrained acidic elements under the spectral, Rother-esque lead lines until it morphs into a jacking creature of the night, with its beats snapping at the future. As good a snapshot of contemporary electro as you could wish with Mechatronica pushing the madness into the new year. Excellent.

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