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Surgeon / Manni Dee
Luminosity Device / The Residue Luke Turner , June 19th, 2018 16:41

Warm, hectic, pummeling, meditative: on Surgeon's Luminosity Device and Manni Dee's The Residue

There are a lot of common misconceptions about the current crop of tough-sounding techno artists still doing good business on the dancefloors of Europe - that it's problematically macho, for instance, or performatively and fetishistically 'dark' in a time when the 'real' world is full of real horrors. Sure, this isn't helped by some colossal bellendery from whoppers like Berceuse Heroique, who once charmingly stalked a woman around London, and who continue to read from Genesis P-Orridge's dog-eared and spunkily tedious manifesto of so-called provocation, but by and large I've found it to be one of the most warmly inclusive music scenes I've ever encountered. It's music that I've enjoyed most thrillingly at queer night KAOS (a club so successful that, with like-minded outfits Proteus and BODY, London is currently one of the best global cities for underground sexed-up raving to crocked EBM) or on a Sunday en route avec Polish chap to one of the funny rooms of Berghain where someone has forgotten to put the lights on.

Telling among the warmth that can be found in these most supposedly austere places is the passing of the baton from the 90s generation to this new wave - there's been excellent new music recently out from the likes of The Black Dog, Blawan, JK Flesh, Bleaching Agent, Helena Hauff, SØS Gunver Ryberg on Paula Temple’s Noise Manifesto and Ora Iso on Regis' Downwards. This collaboration has taken some perhaps surprisingly holistic forms - as Blawan related to John Doran in our recent feature, it's Tony Surgeon who spotted he was going through a bad spot in life, and guided him through it by encouraging a healthier lifestyle, involving yoga: "He’s like this healing character who produces such a crazy energy.”

"Crazy energy" rather defines Tony Surgeon's prolific creative output. There are the atmospheric Electronic Recordings from Maui Jungle on the Buchla Music Easel recorded under his passport name, Anthony Child; a consistent slew of dancefloor 12"; last year's reinterpretation of Showgirls at the Quietus' COUM Transmissions commemoration, and the newly-reactivated end-of-pier-bar-fight duo with Regis, British Murder Boys. Now comes Luminosity Device, a new full-length inspired by the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, and something of a sonic tour-de-force. Techno is the framework on which this eminently thoughtful record hangs - the pranging pace of 'Courage To Face Up To' suits the club as much as the muffled urgency of distant strafing in 'earth-sinking-into-water' and barely suppressed euphoria that twinkles through 'The Etheric Body'. Yet on that framework Surgeon hangs a far more complicated sonic tapestry. It's perhaps unsurprising that Tony Surgeon has struck up a creative relationship with GNOD, for just as they can shapeshift from motorcycle gang at the gates of hell to third-eye cleansing psyche beasts, these nine tracks are alive with possibility, a sense of the transportive and psychedelic as energies that are more important than the constraints of form and genre.

The early evolution of Surgeon's music that would eventually lead to this point was neatly captured on the 2015 compilation of his releases on German label Tresor. They've now given a home to the debut album from Manni Dee AKA Manveer Dheensa, who's previously released magnificent chompers via Perc Trax and whose preposterously hectic DJ sets command even the most weak-kneed straggler to remain suppliant on the dancefloor. It's worth noting too that Manveer Dheensa hails from Wolverhampton, Anthony Child from Northamptonshire via Birmingham - the Midlands have always been a fertile breeding ground for innovators of this stripe.

Geographical origins and cross-generational fertility are not the sole reasons to review these records together, however. Listening to them adjacent brings the sense of an excellent night out to the desk or commuting experience, without the need for a weary trip to Holland & Barrett to buy up their entire stock of 5HTP the following Tuesday. Both records absolutely hold up as albums, rather than a collection of 12"s, and they share a resistance to being pigeonholed as what both techno bros and purists might expect from them.

The obvious route for Dheensa would have been to stick out a record loaded with the sort of tracks which which he made his name - the hectic mechanised wronging of, for instance 'London Isn't England' or 'Relieve The Routine'. He hasn't gone for that, instead (like Surgeon) exploring the possibilities of space, dynamic and sound design that a full-length release offers.

The result is a deeply atmospheric listen that captures many of the anxieties and oppressive atmospheres of existing in metropolitan Britain in 2018. The two minute interlude 'Vicarious Living' has a melancholy akin to wandering home after a rave, looking up at a tower of luxury flats and seeing some wholesome City couple sat having a nude granola breakfast as you wander home to your overpriced room, with its black mold and grotesque memories of personal inadequacy. The politicised spoken word that rattles through 'At The Mercy Of The Muse' might be the thoughts after that depressing return, and is reminiscent of both Jhon Balance of Coil and Shackleton collaborator Vengeance Tenfold. 'Eye Of The Shepherdess' is even more surprising, vocals almost scatting before they're broken up and carried away by a powerful roar, like an astronaut's spacewalking final transmission before they're carried away by an errant meteor. Politics lurks across The Residue in its sense of ominous despair, but it's not a poise or affection - Dheensa puts his deeds where his drops are - in an interview with this site, he revealed that the idea for the genesis of 'Throbs Of Discontent' came while on the bus to a protest.

Even on the harder-hitting tracks Dheensa has showed that his strength lies in restraint as much as pummeling - 'Paroxym' has a straight-backed rhythm, acidy melodic tops to the beats, and the kind of of distorted vocals through which Regis tends to channel Whitehouse. There's a delicious oiliness to its clippering power, like some sweating mountain of an outback sheep shearer on his 300th fleece of the day. The album ends with three tracks 'Smut', 'The Whip Hand' and 'Submit.Breathe' which, though I can see some criticising them for their overt sexuality, do rather fit the bill, all strained seams, air thick with sweat, bruises that stir up breathless memories even as they fade.

In Luminosity Device we've a record that proves heavy techno can be spiritual just as much as it can be austere. With the ranting and stiletto-precise sonics and spoken-word meditations on The Residue there's a retort to those who deny its potential for political provocation. In their abrasive strangeness comes a resistance to cooption by brands, an increasing problem in an electronic music scene where even the most vocally right-on artists seem to have few qualms about where they acquire their money. The industrial heartlands and unexpected techno hinterlands of New Weird Britain are hard at work, grinding out these creations of unexpected elegance and grace.

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