In Drum Play
, December 7th, 2016 18:42
Much modern dance music lives in a hermetically sealed loop of producer/DJs making music for other producer/DJs, fulfilling an avaricious demand for stylistically and sonically appropriate new material to fill their busy DJ schedules. The result, by and large, is music that resides in the third hour of club DJ sets, in minute 25 of SoundCloud mixes and in limited digital releases that chart at 17 on Beatport, never to be heard of again.
This is not necessarily a bad thing - strictly functional music can still be brilliant - but it does tend to favour homogeneity. The rules of supply and demand dictate that this is music knocked up on laptops, quantised and corrected to within an inch of its life; music that runs at the right BPM, with the right sounds. The chances of you wanting to listen to it outside of a DJ set, then, are slim at best.
Pangaea’s 2014 Fabriclive73 mix - his last major release - seemed, for all of its many strengths, partial to such uniformity. In a generally positive review tQ called the album "a flawlessly assembled techno mix" in which "no track is highlighted in particular”, which is fine for a dance-floor mix but unlikely to cut the mustard on an artist album.
Luckily, In Drum Play, Pangaea’s first studio album proper (2012’s Release was considered a double EP), is considerably less seamless than his Fabric mix and all the better for it: not only does the BPM here fluctuate, from beat-free numbers like ‘Scaled Wing’ to ‘DNS’’ 140BPM sprint, but the 10 tracks vary dramatically in style, taking in post dubstep wobble ('Bulb in Zinc'), luxuriantly stringed Detroit techno ('One by One') and even the kind of melodic break funk you can imagine Orbital using to kick off a secret set at Glastonbury 1997 (‘Lofty Can’). This, paradoxically, is an album of ostensibly “club” music - all heavy electronic percussion and loops - that for the large part it is hard to imagine actually hearing in a club in 2016.
Take ‘Send It In’, a song based around haunting grey-sky synths, sub bass and what sounds like a sample of a flute. It is, actually, pretty danceable but the song’s sub-120BPM lurch and semi-industrial beats - the kind of thing favoured by early Autechre, back when they still did four four - means that it is unlikely to be played by many peak-time DJs. Or there’s ‘DNS’, the closest this album gets to the kind of frenetic techno found on Fabriclive73, to which Pangaea adds a brilliantly melancholic vocal intro, which sounds like an Auto-Tune machine melting, dragging the song off into a far weirder space.
What come through in In Drum Play is Pangaea’s love of the unflattened, idiosyncratic edges in electronic music. The producer - aka Kevin McAuley - recently told Thump of his concern that “all those edges are ironed out, things become flat, and people just want to make music that sounds like Berghain techno from three years ago”. This album sounds like a riposte to this very possibility.
‘Rotor Soap’ - possibly the best track here - features the kind of undulating, oscillating synth line that has been dirt common in dance music since ‘I Feel Love’, which McAuley tweaks, fiddles and harasses into sickening, almost comical, shapes, never leaving it to settle. ‘Skips Desk’, meanwhile, allies the fluoro-bright keyboard sound employed in Wiley’s ‘Wearing My Rolex’ to a ramshackle beat that is almost wilfully un-four-to-the-floor, all unexpected cymbal splashes and distorted tom stumble. Holding all this together is a production style that sounds wild-eyed and unkempt: music played out on flesh and blood instruments by tired hands and uncertain human brains, rather than greyscale DAW silicone soul.
At times In Drum Play can sound almost anachronistic in its refusal to conform to 2016 dance-floor values. ‘More is More to Burn’, for example, improbably resembles a 1992 “underground” mix of Adamski’s Killer, right down to the familiar central synth riff and slightly overstretched running time, while ‘Bulb in Zinc’ - bass throb, half-step drums and live hi hat tap - could have come off Pangaea’s 2007 debut, Coiled. And yet the sheer scope of influences at play means that I In Drum Play comes off as timeless rather than retro.
In Drum Play isn’t your standard techno fare, then; it’s not full of bangers for the DJs and it probably won’t soundtrack your Saturday night out. Instead, this is an album for the open-minded; for listeners who love the rough edges and oddness of early electronic sounds; and for anyone who has ever torn off their headphones in frustration at another silky smooth digital transition on SoundCloud. In Drum Play sees Pangaea burst the hermetic seal and let the oddness ooze out. Indulge him.