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M Is A Shape Joe Clay , January 29th, 2015 14:59

Richard Smith doesn't really like talking about his music. "I'm terrible at this," he tells me by email, when I contact him to try and obtain a bit of insider info on his debut album as L/F/D/M. This is backed up by the fact that the press release that accompanies the album, M Is A Shape, doesn't say anything about the music itself, and is instead a quote from Smith on the provenance of the album's title.

"It comes from a time when I was producing all these collages, abstracting a theme, trying to get it down to the perfect motif, the perfect shape that summed up exactly what I'm trying to get across," explains Smith, a former art school student. "And then just when I got there I kinda stepped back and was like; oh it's just a fucking M! The same M that if I had looked at it a month before I would have perhaps only have seen the letter and not the shape." 

That quote is actually far more revealing about the music than Smith might have imagined – as a producer he is also working at abstracting a theme. As one half of Bronze Teeth (alongside former Factory Floor modular synth wizard Dom Butler), he is part of the techno avant-garde responsible for grinding the genre down until it resembles machine music in its most pared back, atonal and brutal form. And while under his own steam Smith's compositions are warmer and more engaging than those of Bronze Teeth, he is still dealing in an abstract version of techno's traditional forms.

On his first EPs as L/F/D/M for Optimo Trax and Clan Destine, Smith served up muscular acid workouts and clanking industrial EBM, but recording for Ecstatic Recordings, the ever excellent label curated by Sam Willis and Alessio Natalizia (aka Walls), he is taking his sound to far out places. 'Insect Cylinders' and 'Sun Shape' are percussive and propulsive, with spluttering drum machines adorned with Detroit-flavoured melodic bleeps. On the beguiling 'Drifting Pyramid' he's in early-Black Dog territory with woozy, analogue synth riffs, a motif repeated on the heaving waltz of 'Book of Five'. 

Reminiscent of his earlier tracks, 'Black Shadows' is a banging EBM monster that comes on like Nitzer Ebb and Armando locked in a padded cell for a fortnight.  The insidious goth-techno of 'No Cure' wouldn't sound out of place on Blackest Ever Black, while on 'Tape Tension', Reichian pianos cascade over a thudding bass drum and distorted New Age whale song effects. Ambient closer '2040' evokes memories of Dylan Ettinger and the first wave of tape crusaders, or even SAW II-era Aphex, with its somnambulant chiming melody.

It's fitting that L/F/D/M isn't actually an acronym for anything specific – Smith just liked the look of the shape of the letters together. This freeform approach to naming conventions is in keeping with Smith's approach to music making overall. There is no need for words when the music speaks so eloquently for itself. 

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