, May 15th, 2014 10:27
One of a number of unlikely success stories from Cleveland, Ohio, James Donadio's Prostitutes project has emerged over the past few years as the latest chapter in the continuing rise of the city's upstart electronic music scene. Centered nominally around John Elliot's Spectrum Spools label, the mosaic of artists and labels from the city is actually considerably more complex and far outlasts the three-year tenure of the imprint. Its origins go back into the underground noise scene and tape-trading circuit that powered the rise of Elliot, his band Emeralds, Mark McGuire, Bee Mask, and others, in the period between 2006 and 2010 when the creative stagnation of the local rock scene caused some of its members, Donadio included, to look further afield for inspiration. Working against stiff local resistance, their efforts to push electronic music in a city rooted in rock conservatism met with little success within Cleveland but eventually launched some members of the group to international notice.
With releases on Opal Tapes, Digitalis, Avian sublabel Mira, and Powell's Diagonal, Prostitutes has recently become one of the city's most widely known exports. Especially over the last year, Donadio has been dropping new recordings at a rapid rate, and with each release arriving on a more noted label than its predecessor, his momentum has clearly been building. As one of the older members of the group, Donadio's musical roots are also spread wider than most: he was a member of the long-running experimental rock group Speaker/Cranker in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which featured various Pere Ubu alumni, before helming Flat Can Co., who released three albums on his StabUdown label before breaking up in 2009. That date roughly coincides with the beginning of Donadio's serious efforts to move into electronic music, an area he had long been an avid listener of. Well served by both community radio and the regionally-famous Bent Crayon record shop, the interested few in Cleveland had more than their share of opportunities for exposure to music little known in similarly-sized cities in the region.
Finally landing on Spectrum Spools for his fourth full-length, Petit Cochon continues the impressive evolution of Donadio's vision into areas where his unabashedly low-fi sound palette, produced on a bare minimum of low-end equipment, creates palpable tension with the sophistication of the ideas presented. Like many noise musicians before him, Donadio has turned his reliance on crude gear on its head and made it into an asset by employing stark minimalism contrasted with sections of heavily layered sounds and grinding noise and beats. As this isn't a dance single released by a techno label, like the three releases that preceded it, there is more room taken here for experimental tracks even if the sum total adds up similarly to his other recent efforts.
For the first half, longer pieces alternate with a series of under-three minute fragments – 'Beautiful Magnets', 'Tube Without Exit', and 'A Number Between Your Eyes' – which present the most conventional techno ideas on the record. The closer 'Four Basic Forces' manages a conspicuous comparison to a strange interpretation of Chain Reaction techno, although the growling bass wobbles introduced in its midsection would be thoroughly out of place in techno of that era. They don't stick around for long though, and the rest of the piece palpably rides the tension between the crushed, low-bit sounds employed by Donadio and more spacious ideas suggested by the sustained pads and heavy doses of reverb and delay applied through most of the duration.
The album's remaining six tracks are more openly confrontational and exist in an area where noise terrorism, raved-up production flourishes, and heavy, pounding and changing beat structures combine for ferocious impact. 'The Bluffer's Corporation' is a particularly good example of this: the rave vocal samples and siren effects and an extremely audible hiss that runs through the track's center are rubbed against dry, blasting bass and martial drum patterns that occasionally move into pummeling double time. Similarly, 'Build Your Kits' seems to take at least as much interest in the noisy background that moves around its dry percussion palette as it does in the drums themselves, which churn forwards in evolving cycles as Donadio adds layers to the piece. It may be 4/4 and techno in tempo, but the overall feel is closer to punk-influenced noise, and he seems to revel in the obvious contrasts between the two aesthetics.
'Suck Out The Reason' uses a loud-soft developmental pattern where spasming breakbeats and rolling bass gradually intensify until the atmospheric elements of the track are completely squashed. Both 'Cylindrical Habitat' and 'Stains Left Untamed' essentially abandon all pretece of dance music in favor of heavy, pounding rock drums with little else except sparse ambient sounds and crunchy low-bit reverb to cushion the insistent percussion. 'Stains Left Untamed' in particular is one of the fiercest pieces here, where the panning delays and swells of threatening sub-bass compound the effects of the eager double-timing of the delays to ratchet up the intensity until it's nearly unbearable.
While the means being utilised here may be crude, as a veteran musician Donadio is able to coax surprising nuance out of his primitive kit, which makes an interesting contrast to many of the much younger producers making even rawer sounds on much more sophisticated equipment. His sound is clearly one of intentional deconstruction, where the conventional structures and ideas of dancefloor music are deliberately broken down and aggressively tested for impact. The reductions of his influences – hard Berlin dub techno, rave music, electro, industrial, bass music – are sparse often to the point of being skeletal, but it is obvious in his execution that Donadio has done his homework. Likewise, the rhythmic ideas used here are uncommonly complex for music so uncannily direct and often simple. Prostitutes' Petit Cochon clearly fits into the current vogue for rawer dancefloor sounds, but by bringing much of Donadio's long musical history to bear, he assumes a deserved place as one of the more distinctive artists to yet arise from this burgeoning movement.