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Moritz Von Oswald & Juan Atkins
Borderland Harry Sword , June 6th, 2013 09:45

While it is perhaps the destiny of high profile collaborative projects to come weighed with an unreasonable burden of expectation, anticipation for this alliance between Berlin and Detroit techno godfathers Moritz Von Oswald and Juan Atkins was always going to be Herculean. Although those expecting nuclear fusion techno are likely to be disappointed - and misguided; this is not a Model 500/Maurizio collaboration, after all - Borderland should delight those enraptured by the smoother corners of their respective discographies.

What Borderland represents is a fittingly virtuoso aural watermark of the jazz and dub infused dialogue that developed between Berlin and Detroit's techno scenes over two decades ago. In 1993, Von Oswald and Thomas Fehlmann, under the name 3MB, released 'Jazz Is The Teacher' in collaboration with Atkins - a seminal record that helped solidify links between their respective cities with a cosmic and jazzy take on techno. It was a fascinating record, and one whose presence seems to have been partially forgotten in the years that followed, due both to each city's rawer musical output and the slightly hypnotising critical consensus built up around them over the years. In word association, the music of Detroit is invariably 'militant', 'faceless', 'mechanised', where Berlin is 'relentless', 'booming', 'cold'.

While there certainly are myriad examples of tracks to do those descriptions justice, an equal amount of music from both cities puts paid to the oft-repeated notion of techno being simply a soundtrack to either rapid urban change (in the case of Berlin) or ultra decline (Detroit). Given that some commentators have already tagged Borderland as overly bland and polite, it's perhaps worth taking a quick look at the wider context in which the record finds itself.

For obvious reasons, jazz and soul have always been vital components of Detroit's electronic make up, as important as the visceral clang of the motor industry and the inescapable economic realities of its severe post-industrial decline. In recent years these musical influences been writ large upon the urgent and hallucinatory heat-haze house of Omar S, Big Strick, Kyle Hall et al. But scratch the surface and they're ever-present in techno, too. Think of the frenetic religious exaltation of Robert Hood's work as Floorplan, its disco, jazz and funk samples sped and looped to ecstatic fever pitch, or the racing, exuberant techno-soul of Eddie 'Flashin' Fowlkes, or the Detroit Techno Soul EPs released by Tresor in the early 90s, whose smooth melodic drive was better suited to a community BBQ than a nefarious club setting.

Berlin, by contrast, long ago shifted to a dubbier undercurrent. Recently the tweaked out excesses of Kassem Mosse, MMM and Mix Mup have taken aspects of the push and pull 'live desk' dynamic of dub and run with it to startling areas. Dub, reggae and 'world' music played very loudly, on systems capable of taking the music far outside its limits, are vital strands of Berlin's house/techno DNA. Bone shaking 7"s coming alive through the Killasan system; Tikiman toasting an obscure Mark Ernestus outernational laptop set; DJ Pete's arrow-straight pure dubstep and techno selections for the Wax Treatment podcasts; CGB1 and his 80s digital dancehall collections; the countless hours spent by Mark Ernestus and Moritz Von Oswald on the lovingly curated Bullwackies reissue label and, of course, the pair's seminal work as Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound. A warm, subbed out undercurrent runs through the edifice of the city.

Borderland is a record where these dual orbits meet, and this is the context in which the record should be taken. Much like the Moritz Von Oswald Trio's excellent Fetch album on Honest Jon's last year, it's something of a quiet masterpiece, with much joy and nuance to be found between its understated layers. It excavates and presents soul, techno and dub in a way that shines with daylight and vitality.

The album comprises eight long circular grooves, but although the tracks may be smooth, they're in no way apologetic. The music is anchored by Von Oswald's trademark analogue punch and Atkins' expert cosmic arrangement. Check the kick/snare/bass interplay on 'Electric Garden' – the same granite interplay that makes 'Music A Fe Rule' by Rhythm & Sound bubble along in such an effervescent manner. Oswald does this kind of music so very, very well – and it still kicks like a fucking mule at volume.

'Treehouse' is a P Funk-referencing space age trawl – expertly placed funk squalls alongside bizarre, off-kilter noises that Peverelist would be proud to make use of. An adroit lustre covers most of these tracks, like a brilliant blue sky over a seedy Tangiers drinking den. 'Mars Garden' is pure dub techno, with expertly deployed echo and reverb cutting in at random intervals alongside one of those walking Von Oswald basslines – aural sunshine.

Borderland is a lush and deeply engaging listen that contains myriad delights. Interestingly, any of the 'polite' or 'well produced' criticisms that have been leveled at it could just as equally be applied to Claro Intelecto's excellent Reform Club, say, or Donato Dozzy and Neel's Voices From The Lake. Like those two records, this is a self-contained, expertly produced album techno of the highest order. Given the amount of subterranean grot around right now - veritable stacks of grimy, hand-stamped white labels in limited runs of –5 - there's more than enough room for it.

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