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Answer Code Request
Code Albert Freeman , June 9th, 2014 13:25

If Ostgut Ton has thus far shown dedication in nurturing the careers of Berghain's group of residents, and in reviving the careers of older legends, there have been relatively few significant debuts for newer talent. To this date, all of the albums thus far released on the imprint originate from long-term residents or established techno artists, and even considering the singles there are relatively few whose lineage isn't clearly intertwined with that of the club. It is then quite significant when a new artist appears on their roster, and the significance is even greater when it is in the form of Answer Code Request, a producer whose few releases thus far have easily challenged the mould of the music the club has become famous for.  Following a few 12"s for his own label and MDR as well as scattered older output under his birth name Patrick Gräser, Code is the producer's debut album as well as an easy outlier when compared to the more succinctly functional music often associated with the label.

Gräser is a figure whose relatively light discography until now offered insufficient indication of his talent. Originating from the same town that produced Marcel Dettmann and Marcel Fengler, he made a parallel pilgrimage to Berlin in the late 1990s after becoming fascinated with its clubs and music, eventually pursuing a successful career as a DJ in the city. His first release appeared in 2008 on the long-running Liebe-Detail label in a minimal and tech house vein. By the following year, his Nightsingale imprint showed him moving away from a sound that was quickly losing fashion in favor of bass music influenced excursions, as well as making an early sighting of Tom Decicco, who has since then emerged as a significant UK techno talent. The two releases on the label failed to generate much notice however, so it was back to obscurity for Gräser for two more years until his reemergence as Answer Code Request in 2011 with a self-released 12", Subway Into, that turned a few of the right heads, including that of Dettmann, who provided the emerging talent with his break in 2012. This appeared in the form of a simultaneously-released pair of 12"s that showcased a diverse sound equally indebted to Detroit, classic rave and downtempo, and contemporary Berlin techno. Easily the least functional and most searching records yet on MDR, they brought ACR instant acclaim and provided the basis for his entry into the inner circle of Berghain acolytes.

Although it is his debut under the ACR moniker for Ostgut, Code is not actually Gräser's first appearance there; the label had released a more strictly functional track under his birth name in 2012. The album is by far one of the most searching the label has yet released however, with very few of its 12 tracks suited for dancefloors; only Shed's The Traveller is comparably esoteric. If he delivered proper techno for the pre-release 'Breathe' single for Ostgut, the album concerns itself almost entirely with the outliers, which have always formed a significant amount of the music released under the Answer Code Request name. Closer 'Thermal Capacity' is the only track that notches even six minutes in length, and with its dreamy atmospheres and gently skipping, garage-influenced beat, it would hardly match most listeners' ideas of music made by a Berghain resident. From the outset, the sounds hear are explorative and experimental, and if the tempos sometimes approximate the expectations of the dancefloor, the structures themselves almost never do. There isn't any delay in revealing his intention: by the second track, 'Blue Russian', Gräser is far outside of techno norms and immersing himself in strange, abstracted broken beats and thickly textured atmospherics.

The remaining eight tracks on the album (excepting two short interludes) can essentially be split evenly between techno-leaning experiments in which breakbeats figure prominently and more atmospheric tracks in which an underlying beat structure is placed at the service of developing his melodic or textural ideas. While the influence of bass music can be heard in some of his rhythmic ideas, it is evident that UK music in general, in particular the classic, rave-indebted early era of IDM, is a significant presence. Gräser rarely does anything without adding some kind of tonal elements in the pads, a tendency that lends the Detroit comparison to his more strictly floor-focused techno tracks, and a tendency eagerly borrowed by the British in that early era of experimental dance music that provides such a strong influence throughout Code.

If the source of his ideas is often obvious, sometimes the combinations arise in novel ways. On 'Zenith', the pad could be taken from any number of traditional deep house tracks, but its odd, rigid 4/4 delay pattern contrasts vividly throughout with the drum & bass indebted beatbox percussion going on underneath that channels early µ-Ziq material. Indeed, Paradinas seems an obvious comparison through much of the record, even if Gräser's ideas are clearly informed by more contemporary ideas such as dub techno, pure dub, and the many permutations of the hardcore continuum that have emerged since the IDM era. When the album's first straightforward techno track appears at the halfway point with 'Status', it sounds almost out of place in comparison to all of the experimental material around it, but even this piece is very toned down from the sound that brought him fame on MDR and concerns itself more in textural dub ideas than in burning dancefloors.

Going back to the earlier comparison to Rene Pawlowitz, whose many aliases tread very much in the same range of influences, side-by-side listening reveals two artists whose music may arise from similar backgrounds but who each have accomplished a highly developed sound cut from different cloth. While Pawlowitz has eagerly spun off aliases to explore different and more limited portions of his classic rave influences, Gräser seems much more interested in unifying as many different ideas drawn from the history of dance music as he can under one name and, if possible, in one track, lending the results a sophisticated, complex outcome. A piece like 'By The Bay', with its combination of breakbeats, melodic leads, atmospheric dub effects, and steady, insistent strut, is more easily paralleled to the intentionally diverse ideas of mid-90s Carl Craig tracks than it is to the distilled pounding that Pawlowitz falls back on in many of his projects.

While Code for the most part concerns itself with the more relaxed side of Gräser's Answer Code Request output and thus is not exactly a complete picture of the project – his biggest hits so far have been his heaviest techno efforts – the thick, often-tranquil atmospheres and subdued artistry here mark this as the work of a modern electronic music auteur with very deep knowledge of the history of his area. Perhaps it's best he left the techno for the separate 12" targeted at the DJs; even one of his always-intense floor tracks shoehorned into this album would sound out of place and force a break in continuity. His 12"s thus far have combined the two sides of the project with a certain elegance, but it was clear even there that he had very different intentions for the different ideas. It's certain that Gräser has more of the heavy stuff held in reserve, but packing an album with only that would be almost too obvious for both him and his label. Separated and distilled like this, his spacious conception of electronic music is given room to breathe and results in one of the best home listening records Ostgut has yet released as well as a striking first album for an artist who is sure to continue his rise.

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