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Donato Dozzy & Nuel
The Aquaplano Sessions Albert Freeman , March 27th, 2014 08:27

From the vantage point of 2014, it's difficult to overemphasize Donato Dozzy's influence on the last five years of ambient techno and ambient music in general, particularly with the rise of labels like Prologue, Peter van Hoesen's Time to Express and Acid Test. His Voices From The Lake project with Neel in particular has come to epitomise a certain style of widescreen, blown-out techno that takes Berghain's infatuation with reverberation miles further than many believed possible, to a space of shimmering but intense waves of sound that seem to fill in every last niche in the stereo spectrum. At once engulfing but also claustrophobic, dark but also uplifting, gently hypnotic but also full-throttle, the producers behind it left no details untouched in filling in their vision, incorporating ideas from kosmiche, psychedelia, noise, ambient music, and proper techno.

Dozzy is hardly the product of isolation though, and behind the obscurity of his early records, he had actually been active as a DJ for over a decade beforehand, as well as in the studio under different aliases. His emergence in 2004 on small, short-lived labels like Elettronica Romana, Orange Grove, and his own Dozzy Records effectively introduced listeners to many of the cast of Italian producers currently making waves. Italy was hardly well known as a hotbed of electronic music creativity at the time, and the records were largely unknown for several years. Also significantly, they were mostly collaborations, and mostly produced after he had already moved to Berlin to become a resident at Panorama Bar from 2004 to 2006, a move that would greatly shift his direction in years to come. Berlin was instrumental in removing some of the minimal and progressive ideas that were rapidly becoming less fashionable from his music, and he and his collaborators put their heads further and further down into taking the stamina techno concept and pushing it to new extremes of abstraction.

It's interesting, then, to revisit long-unheard moments from Dozzy's past, given that his journey to this point has been quite a linear one, from early experiments that were more revealing of his roots, to later tracks which stack these layers in vertiginously moving, organic forms. His recent music can be numbing over a long period of time, simply for its insistence on density and subtlety to make its point, and for its reliance on long-format statements and high-ambition presentation. The earlier recordings he made, either in his vast array of collaborations or solo, tend to focus on particular pieces of this puzzle, and offer an incomplete but often insightful look at the way he's developed the monolithic sound he's now regarded for.

The two untitled records he co-produced with the experimentally-inclined Italian producer Nuel, which swiftly appeared and disappeared in 2008 to 2009 on the momentary Aquaplano label, are important markers in his long discography. Nuel resurfaced after their release with a pair of 12"s and a full-length of non-techno abstract psychedelic music for Further Records, before not being heard from since 2011. In 2008, Donato Dozzy was just beginning his most prolific period with his Labyrinth residencies, a busy singles output on famed labels, and his albums on Further and more recently Spectrum Spools. The Aquaplano Sessions, which compiles his collaborative music with Nuel, showcases one particularly compelling moment in his career, before the edges had been quite so smoothed and rawer elements still remained.

The album consists of eight unnamed tracks that explore varying facets of the duo's sound. From the off, it's quite evident this isn't the sort of fare listeners have grown to expect from the Italians over time. The bass lurch underlying 'Aqua 1' could easily be borrowed from any number of Dozzy's later records, as could the suspended, heavily filtered pad, but the forward emphasis on twisting drum machine patterns, conspicuously in more of an electro framework, points this much more squarely at the dancefloor. The sparse, broken beat dub of the second piece changes unexpectedly when wavering, sampled field recordings enter at its midpoint. The third and fourth tracks are again unexpectedly rough, with shifting rhythmic elements, rougher transitions, and a fast pace of development.

The long, liquid ambient-psychedelic 'Aqua 5' that begins the second half, with its shimmering sequences, is concise and punchy in its emotional impact. The remaining trio of tracks go back to techno, but the harder details remain throughout, accentuated by touches like reduced reverb usage and an overall simpler production aesthetic. They are still long, loping grooves and DJ tools par excellence, but the considerable lack of total fluidity compared to Donato's more contemporary work is noticeable everywhere, and it's not a suit that the producers wear badly. Indeed, on the eighth, closing track - where melodies, rhythm and a subtly-worked acid line combine to evoke Ambient Works-era Aphex Twin - we find encapsulated in one manageably short piece most of the qualities that have made these artists household names in techno circles. 

Occasionally perfection itself can be problematic. Dozzy has so succinctly encapsulated a short era in techno that he will also likely witness the backlash it has brewed against its own accomplishments. He's a musician of great depth and experience, and his efforts to subtly combine psychedelia and dance music into a living, breathing form have proven their point, and profoundly so. But the edgeless nature of such music, in less capable hands than Dozzy's, has caused many listeners and producers to now start leaning towards sounds that are rougher and rawer round the edges. The Aquaplano Sessions is compelling compared to his more recent work for exactly this reason - though admittedly it would be remarkable in any era for its quality of execution. Lifted from the past as this compilation is, it seems to suggest a way forward for the artist and the genre at large through re-claiming its ragged aspects, and making dance music again a more aggressively physical concept.