, October 30th, 2013 10:22
With the harsher end of techno in the middle of its biggest renaissance in over a decade, it is only fitting that one of the first masters of the form has found himself back in high demand. It's not as if he ever went anywhere; Mika Vainio is easily one of techno and experimental electronic music's most prolific artists, with a discography that stretches across genre divides, aliases, a few of the area's most respected labels, and seemingly endless collaborations with long-term partners and in one-off groups.
For someone who's invested thirty-plus years in production and electro-acoustics, Vainio is surprisingly modest about both his means and his goals: a few simple machines, a few homemade noisemakers, patience, and his intuitive, improvisational approach to music are the basic components to achieve the moods he seeks. Developments are teased out deliberately, and end results are diverse.
Possibly polarised by his intense, long running interaction with Ilpo Väisänen in their duo Pan Sonic, Vainio's career has thrived on extremes. They were most obvious on the pair's records, which often featured minimalist beat experiments rubbed directly against short outbursts of searing electronic noise. The interplay seemed to get more intense as time went on; their 2004 four-album set Kesto featured a disc each of the various styles they were known for – noisy industrial, minimalist rhythms, droning tonal experiments, and pure ambient pieces – and their 2007 and 2010 efforts for Blast First Petite contained some of their harshest but also most arrestingly beautiful work yet, with passages incorporating live acoustic instrumentation and even louder outbursts of industrialisms.
Vainio himself was little more predictable in this time and afterwards; since Pan Sonic's 2010 dissolution, he has made ambient records for Touch, recorded in improvised jazz-noise ensembles for PAN and Honest Jon's, and released Life… It Eats You Up, his 2011 effort for eMego that was as notable for containing nearly-unrecognisable Stooges covers as it was for being one of his harshest, most feral outings ever, as well as one of his most concrete.
Indeed, it seems that Vainio's music has recently taken a general turn towards more concrete reference points: Kilo, the title of his newest album, is a very appropriate metaphor for the images of gravity, slowness and weight that the music presented here summons. The track titles themselves follow suit, citing themes of decaying industry interspersed with nautical references: 'Rust', 'Wreck', 'Docks', 'Cranes', 'Cargo'. In keeping with this imagery, the music possesses a slow, lumbering rhythmic base, much like the steady forward motion of a freighter against a storm of harsh elements, and calmer moments of dusky, decaying sonics alternate with more ferocious outbursts of noise and power electronics while the pulse pushes on.
If the track divisions do not pass by unnoticed, they are consistently un-emphasised; the beats subside for moments of respite, only to reenter in a similar tempo but rearranged structurally. In another move of deliberate pacing, the ominous waves of the record gradually rage into a tempest in its third quarter during 'Scale'. The end of the album simply fades out slowly into silence.
In unifying the more rhythmic side of his music with the textural side that he displays on his noise and ambient recordings, Vainio has created a statement that is fitting for an artist in the middle of a career renaissance. Kilo exchanges pure visceral impact for control and composition, but in doing so it focuses its own energy into a sharper edge. He ultimately may forever be defined by his work with Väisänen and his early catalogue on Sähkö, but by moving past the rage of Pan Sonic's end statements to a sophisticated synthesis of power electronics, rhythm, noise, improvisation, and drone, Vainio has created one of his most cohesive recent statements.