, January 23rd, 2013 04:50
Back in 2010, during an interview with Derek Walmsley for The Wire, Sherard Ingram spoke of his music as DJ Stingray becoming increasingly concerned with perceived changes in the political and social climate: observing the shrinking of individuality in the face of corporate and commercial 'standardisation', watching personal freedoms gradually being hemmed in. Though it's been an ongoing interest for the Detroit based producer (naming his 1998 Urban Tribe album The Collapse of Modern Culture wasn't exactly beating about the bush), it's only in the last few years that the tone of the music has come to mirror its bombastic titles. Where previously his melancholic jazz-flecked hip-hop/house betrayed the prominent influence of Moodymann and Anthony 'Shake' Shakir (Urban Tribe being an unofficial quartet of sorts composed of those two, Ingram and Carl Craig); records like Drexciyan Connection, Aqua Team 2 and Stingray Enters the Unknown quickly proved how adept the producer was at creating a particular strand of classic electro infused with creeping dread.
That 'Drexciyan connection' is key to understanding the reference behind this sudden burst of directed activity. Ingram was originally given the Stingray name by Drexciya mastermind James Stinson to fulfil a job as the duo's tour DJ just before the latter's death in 2003. Though abandoned immediately afterward, the conceptual possibilities of the project and its sound obviously remained a nagging influence. Woven through much of the Drexciyan discography has always been a feeling that we're being shown something that exists as part of larger narrative - even their most functional tracks seem to slough water from every fissure as they're dredged to the surface.
F.T.N.W.O feels similarly saturated and enriched by its concept. It's ingrained with a particular kind of dark 21st century paranoia that feels like the culmination of everything DJ Stingray has been working towards in the last couple of years. It's carefully crafted work - details like percussion or oscillating synths are carefully flanged to spiral inwards, very quickly breeding an acute sense of hypnotic agoraphobia. That which more usually remains inert or functional in electronic music suddenly becomes tinged with alienation and unease: snares, claps and kicks treated to feel slightly sickly.
The album is surprisingly hard to pick apart in terms of specific tracks, perhaps for similar reasons why (sadly soon to close) New York record shop Dope Jams took vitriolic aim towards the Drexciyan oeuvre recently - thematic consistency leads to difficulty in picking stand-out 'dope tracks'. 'Evil Agenda' and 'Lead From the Shadows' respectively offer introduction and intermission in beatless ambience, with vocal snippets discussing a 'new world order'- and the rest unfolds more or less as one. For better or worse, those dramatic cut-and-pasted vocals remain a relative constant, more often falling on the side of cheesy during 'Denial of Service' ('I want to get online, I need a computer!') or 'Image Search'. Considering the artfully crafted production, these tend to seem needlessly retroactive and clumsily overt, but then I suppose I always preferred the purely instrumental Dopplereffekt tracks too.
Another common feature is the surprisingly quick tempo, a Stingray hallmark that in contrast to the vocals really shines on F.T.N.W.O., adding subtlety and depth. 'Interest Rate' and 'No Knock' in particular jump around with touches of Miami Bass/Ghettotech or even Juke ('Jit' in Detroit, I believe), quickening the pulse significantly.
Latent Detroit influence seems to hang elsewhere in the darkness too. The corruption and complex socio-political atmosphere of the city has been discussed to death, and needs no further detailing here, but seems particularly relevant to the prism of anxiety and paranoia the music is fired through with. That said, just as Walmsley in that interview identified the relative novelty of Ingram cutting through the myth of Detroit as a 'broken city', so too do the specks of light piercing the gloom in the latter half of the album seem refreshingly unexpected. The heady drive of 'Image Search' and coruscating tones of 'Outsourced' provide hints of brightness that cut through an otherwise murky outlook on the present - small cracks of daylight, peeking through a gap in the blackout curtain.