The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Brandt Brauer Frick
Mr Machine Andy Thomas , November 22nd, 2011 11:41

Back in the mid 70s, Kraftwerk discarded their conventional instruments and turned to synthesizers to create their hugely influential LP Autobahn. Nearly forty years on, another German group are again playing with musical conventions, but in a reverse of their forebears, Brandt Brauer Frick are using acoustic instruments to recreate techno. In doing so the group aren't the first to translate dance music through 'traditional' means, but the sound they created on their debut LP You Make Me Real was much more automated and ultimately rhythmic than that of say Christian Prommer's more jazz based Drumlesson. As the group's Paul Frick explained at the time of release: “instead of using only the typical epic orchestra or piano sounds, we love to explore the dirty percussive sides of those instruments.” It's an approach that sits the group perfectly between Steve Reich and Jeff Mills two of their biggest inspirations, and one that makes them equally at home playing the Modern Art Museum as Club Berghain. It's been through these live performances that the group has developed the sound we hear on this their second LP.

Mr Machine sees BBF further the concept of their outstanding debut, building on those live shows and dispensing completely with all 'synthetic' sound. Paul Frick explains the changes in what has become a ten-piece orchestral work: "On You Make Me Real, we still used some effects and more synths, whereas Mr Machine is completely unplugged, except for the Moog synth, which is amplified through a bass guitar amp. You Make Me Real was still 'produced'. On Mr. Machine there's nothing like that at all." Catching the group live at Bush Hall during the tour to promote their debut LP earlier this year, there was a sense that the group's acoustic dance music was somewhat compromised by the subtle use of electronics. So have the “very long and intense” five months spent in the studio with some of the cream of Berlin's jazz and contemporary resulted in an LP that fulfills their creative vision? While there are new compositions here it's perhaps easier to judge the LP on the reinterpretations of tracks off You Make Me Real.

The best place to start is 'Bop'. Already one of the most organic sounding cuts from their debut LP, here the larger orchestra provide new textures while keeping things nice and minimal. It is in the close attention to detail that BBF have succeeded in their approximation of electronic music, whether the flattened percussion used to replicate dance music's ubiquitous 808, the use of a tuba and trombone to create a nagging bass line, or the metronomic pulse of the keys and strings to create the hypnotics at the heart of techno. The more orchestral approach here softens the edges of the group's compositions while creating a more expansive sound. Apparently their recent tour with the orchestra saw the group using 80 pages of sheet music and the attention to detail has paid off especially on the Latin complexities of 'Mi Corazon'. Going even deeper, 'You Make Me Real' finds the group expanding the jazz licks of the original, ending up as nearer to Sun Ra than Kraftwerk. Yet while the group's strings heavy version of James Braun's techno track 'A 606 n Rock n Roll' cannot be faulted, there are times here when I yearned for some of the rougher edges of those brilliant early dance 12”s on the Tartelet Records label.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.