, August 12th, 2014 07:41
While late-2000s techno will likely be remembered for the resurgence of Berlin, Detroit, and the tendencies associated with these two cities, as the decade turned, it is increasingly clear that British techno has again become a separate entity that others are looking to for innovations. Fuelled by bracing music from the likes of Shifted, Sigha, Perc, Truss, Blawan, Pariah, AnD, and many others, since 2010 there has been a general turning away from the dub influences that dominated even the mid-2000s Modern Love school towards the grittier textures and IDM leanings of UK producers like Regis, Surgeon, James Ruskin, the 65D Mavericks, Oliver Ho, and others whose work defined the late-90s explosion of the UK as a force of distinct direction separate from Motown and the German capital. These new developments obtained added momentum now that many of the classic producers returned in top form after time spent in the wilderness. Examples abound that point to a new golden era of techno in the UK: the renewed ferocity of Downwards, Blueprint, or Surface and their growing stables of artists new and old, Ho's work as Broken English Club, or the seeming omnipresence of Surgeon, including the rebooted British Murder Boys.
To this should be included Token Records, a Belgian imprint initially founded in 2007 with the express goal of releasing the work of a single producer: Inigo Kennedy, himself a longtime veteran of UK techno whose work never received as much notice as the more famous movements but which is equally rigorous, if more personal. Token's roster runs heavy on classic techno names – storied fellow Londoner Ø [Phase], Oscar Mulero and his frequent associate Christian Wünsch have contributed heavily and Mark Broom has put in an appearance – but Kennedy's work consumes nearly a third of the label's catalogue and remains central to its mission. With their unfailing support, the producer has managed to release some of his best work of any era in the seven years since the label launched. To this may be added Vaudeville, only the second artist album yet on the imprint (after Ø [Phase]'s Frames Of Reference) and yet another high-water mark for the return of classic UK techno talent to bracingly top form.
Perhaps it took the present era for Inigo Kennedy's work to really stand out the way it should. In the late 1990s with things flooded with late-era IDM variants, early minimal, and the height of the initial onslaught of UK hard techno, it is not unlikely that something as nuanced as his sound would slip between cracks and not find an audience it was deserving of. Rather than change to fit trends or quit altogether, either of which was the fate of many, Kennedy remained on a steadfastly unfashionable path for years, even self-releasing his own music on free MP3s from 2004-2007 before Token began to issue it on vinyl again. However, while peers young and old scramble to build (or re-build) analog studios and try for rawer sounds, the kind of complex textural and rhythmic ideas at the heart of many of Kennedy's tracks stand out more and more for their expertly-wrought craftsmanship. This approach places him close to Kangding Ray or the Stroboscopic Artefacts and Time To Express labels, albeit with years of veteran experience few of these artists can match.
Kennedy gives quite strong hints at where the listener's attention should rest simply in the sequencing of Vaudeville. The initial three tracks ('Narrative', 'Birth', 'Requiem') are all so completely engulfed in texture that even when a proper techno beat comes in on the third it never manages to take precedence over the rest. 'Requiem' is particularly striking for its droning wall of kick drum reverb that the producer contrasts against jazzy organ licks and wilder synthesiser parts; there's plenty of noise in the second half too, mostly sourced from an abrasive, wavering synth that takes over the midrange for the final portion. 'Plaintive' almost matches its title for the first half, but it too gets is invaded by a gradual drift of noisy synthesiser parts that quash the melodic pads and go for the throat until an organ return briefly in the last bars. 'Lullaby' arrives at the album's midpoint with a melody worthy of its title, contrasted with rougher drum work and gentle metallic percussive elements, but throughout there's such an enthralling mesh of textural elements that the lull it suggests is palpable.
The second half is more kinetic, but it retains the sparkling, bottomless soundscapes of the first half. Popping straight kicks and a growling, zapping synthesiser line take the center stage of 'Vallecula', but it's difficult to nail down the source of the track's relentless forward motion as sounds mutate and shift faster than the ear can grasp them. He breaks for two more classicist, straightforward techno tracks, but 'Petrichor' is still notable for the interaction of the funky, organic bassline with its lively shuffled and swung rhythmic parts. Like the opening pair, the closing two are more experimental: 'Aleph' utilises an cycling glitch rhythm that doesn't square with the other percussion parts and rubs it against the album's hardest techno beat and yet more melodic elements, while closer 'NGC5128' at last brings the ever-present IDM influence to the fore as the hugely reverbed organ sequence repeats behind increasingly dense breakbeat percussion. Odd jazz accents again figure in both the bassline and intermittent squeals of a lead, but the massive pound throbbing at its centre and the way he artfully sculpts the bass shows the touch of a veteran techno producer.
Inigo Kennedy's blend of influences is ultimately rooted in sensibilities quite far from the Detroit axis that begat techno, and while the album invites comparison to second career winds from Robert Hood or Terrence Dixon, his is a uniquely British sound. The harder rhythmic elements borrowed from Hood and Jeff Mills in early UK techno always put it at its closest approach to Detroit, and the true divergence came later, when British producers began integrating foreign sounds like IDM and the many oddities of '80s European electronic and industrial music into the music. As one of the most incessant explorers of this intersection, it stands to reason that Kennedy's sound would be amongst the most accomplished, and Vaudeville meets these expectations with its immersive balance between uncompromising techno beats, emotive melody, and richly-detailed productions for a new landmark in the veteran's long career.