Review: Dez Williams – Forlorn Figures in Godforsaken Places EP (Mechatronica)

Even after the best part of two decades Dez Williams remains an outlier in the electro scene. There is something in his work – a feel for the darkened end of the electro spectrum perhaps, or his use of other genres heavy elements – which separates him from his peers. This has become more obvious over the last couple of years as the genre has begun to envelop more and more of the silvery and rarefied tastes of IDM, or the ongoing investigations into just how deep you can go. As those trends have grown a large part of electro’s current fashions seems to have receded from Williams. Or, perhaps more appropriately, Williams has receded from them.

As if in retort Williams’ has made potent use of a host of sounds that seem to have drifted out of fashion elsewhere; acidic elements retain, in Williams’ hands, a power to sear and knock you sideways instead of rendering them into a sort of vaguely cool hat-tip they appear to have become with other producers; his breaks, thundering in a middle space between the deceptive fragility of European electro-noir, and Detroit’s looser, technobass funk, rides fast, the percussion barbed and cutting. His forays into techno, frequent and very much on a par with his electro, contain not only a dose of the spiky rawness of FUSE and early Surgeon, but the energy of furiously debauched and hungry rave, all tied together with post-punk’s dirty skank.

Forlorn Figures in Godforsaken Places taps into much of this prevailing energy. While it is very much an electro EP in the most modern sense, it rarely allows itself the luxury of staying on that one path. At times it fluctuates, resonating on some unheard and innate frequency, until fragments are shaken away to reveal the new and underlying structure. It’s also a record which takes delight in revoking electro’s unfair reputation as a medium too abstract for dancing to. That such a claim still exists is weird, but Williams’s brings with him a bag of tricks and touches which emphasise the funk and grooves even while it sounds as if the four horsemen are on the loose.

This is not to say Forlorn Figures is particularly heavy. Perhaps in relation to a lot of contemporary electro is weighs in at the heftier end, but it’s less abrasive than some of his recent techno work, bringing a certain amount of light which dials up the contrast. Generally the harsher tones serve to scour away extraneous tissue, removing bulk and limbering the tunes up. The results are lean and dangerous.

From the off, Williams’ taste for the shadowy side of electronica’s past is at work. Opener Xen sparks into life and builds a focus on bleak billows of bass extracted from the most prowling forms of techstep. It brings a gravity to the track which leans hard on the breaks, capturing them and pressing them into a scattered orbit where they clatter and pop. Troom, right at the end, slips the whole tune into a slower circuit, and evokes flickering images of Le Car’s Detroit born, synth pop tinged experimentalism, and late 80s hiphop jams. It’s a confident, brash number, the track smacking beats and bass of an off-kilter half-melody as it grows more and more fiery.

Even when the music contains the more recognizably straight up tones of electro, they are toyed with, and mutated. On The Verge latches the mood to noir-ish streets, slowly dousing the light levels under a shroud of Rother-esque leads before illuminating everything with gentle flares of melody and glowing rivulets of sultry strings which accent the rain-lashed and cinematic roll of the tune. Carkrash Vikdem in comparison, corkscrews through, industrializing the beats, straightening out the groove into what snarling, peak time nastiness, and weaving in machine soul by way of static bursts of bleeps.

Forlorn Figures… is a corrective of sorts for a scene which has the first, very slight, symptoms of playing a bit too readily for the gallery. It’s tautness comes not from a modern electro-minimalist approach to reduction, but from the simple understanding of how everything goes together, fits together, perfectly, and its fire and energy draws from a time when electro was first and foremost a mover of limbs and feet. It’s this which informs the music most: fast, sometimes heavy, and occasionally even brutal, it’s always done to power the grooves. Excellent, excellent electro that bites back.