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Gesaffelstein
Aleph Joe Clay , December 2nd, 2013 11:43

The first time Gesaffelstein bothered my consciousness was when I was sent a promo single of his track 'Pursuit' earlier this year, accompanied by a press release that contained minimal information about the artist on one side of the A4 sheet, while every inch of the other side was taken up with a striking black and white image of the man behind the music, the Paris-based techno DJ/producer Mike Levy. It's not surprising Parlophone were keen to push their man's appearance – he is one handsome fucker and no mistake. Wiry, dark-eyed, sharp-suited and with a toned-down take on the Harry Styles bouffant, Levy is the type of smouldering chap who you'd normally see advertising Joop! Homme on the back of GQ. There's nothing terribly wrong with this approach. After all, he's not the first musician to be pushed on his looks and it's not his fault he's so damn SEXY, but it is a far cry from the faceless approach employed by the majority of techno artists. But major labels don't usually sign artists and encourage them to work under the radar.

Away from outward appearances there is also that unwieldy trading moniker – Gesaffelstein, a bastardisation of two towering intellectual concepts: Gesamtkunstwerk, the German ideal of the total or universal artwork; and none other than Albert Einstein himself, helpfully referenced on the press release as "the man who explained the universe". On the one hand, you have to applaud Levy for the scale of his ambition in naming his project; on the other, the pretention Klaxon is going berserk. "It is an ambitious name," says Levy. "But I want my music to be art… And Einstein always kept questioning and refining his ideas. That's what I strive towards."

Even with these caveats, you have to judge the man on his music – after that is what it should all be about and while listening to the aforementioned 'Pursuit', a brutal slab of hammering tech-noir that evokes memories of Nitzer Ebb and Front 242, you soon start to realise that Levy is far more than just a pretty face. A mention of Skinny Puppy in the press release shows that the man knows his electro-industrial onions and this is reflected in 'Pursuit'. "I have a facility to understand dark emotion," he says, a statement backed up by recent single 'Hate Or Glory', another intense, industrial throbber with bludgeoning beats. Levy has remixed Depeche Mode, and you can imagine Dave Gahan's vocal perfectly complimenting the melodic, ebullient techno of 'Values' and 'Trans', which has echoes of Black Celebration-era Mode. Levy also emotes, dropping deep and meaningful soundscapes like 'Nameless' and the title track, 'Aleph'; the latter imagines Jan Hammer straying into Oneohtrix Point Never synth-jockey territory. The terribly named 'Hellifornia' is actually brilliant – a song that could easily have been written solely to appear on a Grand Theft Auto soundtrack, utilising the high-pitched synth line of G-funk backed by slo-mo trap beats and gnarly low-end.

It doesn't all work – a couple of songs feature the spiky vocals of Chloe Raunet, formerly of a band signed to Kill The DJ, who delivers nonsensical bon mots like, "The horizon sets down with inky fatigue and the clouds are showing off" with a deadpan Euro panache that just about stops you laughing out loud. There is also a hidden track, a portentous piano instrumental, dropped at the end of the album presumably to leave us with the sensation that Levy is a serious musician to be taken seriously, but he should drop the poe-faced posturing – at its best, which is most of the album, Aleph gives off an authentic fug of raw, industrial aggression that many underground techno producers would be proud to put their name to. 

The conflicting sides of Gesaffelstein are perfectly encapsulated during his appearance at the Boiler Room in Berlin; on one hand seemingly affected, shirt unbuttoned to expose some chest, sucking on a ciggy with knowing Gallic insouciance, fiddling with his hair… But also: intense and focused, absolutely smashing it, deftly mixing three tracks at the same time, grooving, lost in the music... 

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