Review: Versalife – Nova Prospekt (Trust)

Boris Bunnik re-activates his Versalife project for an outing on Austria’s Trust, and while Nova Prospekt is full of trademark pulses of sonic, cosmic, radiation, and wide, rainy sweeps of atmospherics there is, here and there, a slightly less recognizable steeliness at work underneath a lot of the material.

Versalife remains one of the big electro projects that people from outwith the scene are probably familiar with. It’s not all that surprising; beyond Bunnik’s work as the well-known Conforce, Versalife’s music draws from a pool of sounds and influences which are hardly exclusive to electro, and as a result it feels hybrid in its creation – electro beats, certainly, and a bit of techno’s grunt as well as something less tangible, less immediately obvious.

Here that intangible quality works its way between the notes and into the fabric of the music. Echoes Of A Resonant Cascade hooks deliberately lopsided beats of glass with fragments of shimmering light. It does so with subtle nods to the rainy textures once so common to the expansive horizons of earlier IDM. It lends the tune a downbeat mood, one which is never far from the surface across the whole EP.

Part of that comes from an air of quiet experimentalism which informs much of the music, and heavily supported by Bunnik’s love of expansive synths and pads. They build and roll like clouds in Autumn, changing shape and meaning as they unfurl. Occasionally they overstep their mark. Nova Prospekt itself fills the empty space between the chiming bassline with drifting and silvery pads, but they draw the nascent groove away from the bass, which hints at deep, prowling, funk, and aims the tune towards the sky instead of letting it get its feel dirty in the dance.

2 A Spacts finds a remedy for this gentle intrusion by shifting itself a bit more, shortening the time available for introspection while keeping open wide avenues for the atmospherics to paint their pictures. There is a vibe of proto-rave here; not frenetic nor posturing, just a simple sense of self which adds a bite to the drums and propels it along with a greater purpose. The closer, Exosuit is a compressed, nervy, twist of electronics on a spine of clattering beats. It’s sparseness a counterpoint to the rest of the EP, and it cleverly retools the overarching mood, turning the shining highs into shadow-filled depths.

Do I love Nova Prospekt? I’m not sure I do. But I’m not sure it’s a record which is supposed to elicit love. It’s so measured, so precise in its tonal shifts and use of swirling, frosty, synths that it instead demands respect for something that falls beyond the usual remit of dance music as a whole. In this it is once again evocative of early IDM, and the sense that the electronics, the man-machine, could be pushed further than the framework allowed, if they could avoid becoming trapped in a newer structure of orthodoxy.

When Nova Prospekt does come into its own, though, such as on the fuzzy and funky Echoes Of A Resonant Cascade, or Exosuit’s tight emptiness, all of those structures come together, the grooves informing the structure, the structure guiding the grooves. As parts of electro continue to deepen themselves, its worth stopping here for a moment to witness the fact that balance can give the music something that transcends trends and draw heavily on a tradition of electronic sounds which served to unlock worlds as much as moods.

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Best Of The Represses September/October 2018

Yeah, I’ve been on holiday, and I’m not kidding when I tell you getting the motivation to write about music again has been a real pain. Still here we are so let’s see what we’ve got! A slim couple of months, looks like, but not as bad as it could have been. It’s probably going to be a little on the light side now until Christmas really raises its head. Oh well. Them’s the breaks. Here’s some class to beat back the lengthening nights.

Fastgraph: Systematic and ../../ – Klakson

While it may be easy to slag off the repress game there does at least seem to be an unspoken acknowledgement that there is an awful lot of music out there which deserves an extra few moments in the light. Electro has, all things considered, benefited more than most other genres from this mindset and it continues to bestow sounds upon us that were otherwise lost to the Hounds of Discogs.

Frank De Groodt has been back in the frame recently thanks to re-releases and new material under his excellent Sonar Base guise. For some of us, though, it’s his work as Fastgraph which reverberates as his definitive sonic statement. The two reissued EPs here, 2001’s Systematic, and 2002’s ../../ fill an interesting niche in the history of electro in the way that they both effortlessly create a sound which remains entirely their own. It would have been easy for Fastgraph – as a lot of producers did – to look to the dominant sonic signatures of the era for inspiration; after all,it was a world coming off the back of not only Detroit electro, but the cooler forms of Rotherian fuelled European electro-noir.

That’s not to say there aren’t touches, but they point more to a common ancestry than to homage or creative pilfering. In fact, what is most noticeable now having been able to listen to both in totality for the first time in a very long time, is the way that they feel very much like the forerunners of a lot of the more subtle thematic variations on the genre we have come to take almost for granted nowadays. There is as much kindred energy and commonality with the IDM tangled work-outs labels such as CPU release or the spidery forms of Arcanoid as there is with the way in which the likes of Le Car, Ectomorph, or Andreas Bolz would take the tropes and sounds of the genre and make it utterly, uniquely their own.

Of the two EPs, I would have to give Systematic the nod over ../../ as the better of the pair – although in terms of quality you would be hard pushed to get a cigarette paper between them; both are immensely satisfying records. What swings it for me is the way Systematic feels the more complete, the four tunes unified by a sense of groove and an articulate aural nous which allows a particular vibe and narrative to run from one end of the record to the other. 3Des with its souped up hip hops beats, liquid metal bass, and vacuum frozen grace is a tight scamper across an outer moon. Systematic itself is alien beauty, urgent and earnest and a tune which puts me very much in mind of Third Electric at the effervescent, introspective best.

../../ is certainly looser in construction, and a tab more experimental in execution. Emotionally and tonally it is probably more playful and open than Systematic even though it does quite hit the same crystalline highs. Even so, no one listening to a tune such as ../../ can surely come away without feeling some tug at their heart from the way in which the track pulls at your soul. Squid punches up the contrast and builds a moody, crackling beast of fuzz and 4/4s, lending the EP a very different feel to that which lulled you in to begin with.

Shout out to Klakson for bringing these two back from the freezer. Maybe if we’re very lucky we might get a repress of 2007’s Evasive Manoeuvres as well. I hope so; that’s a record which very much completes a special trilogy. Even if we aren’t, there is more than enough quality on display across these two reissues to ward off all the tech-house the winter can throw at you. Get buying.