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Halogen Continues Noel Gardner , July 18th, 2017 15:51

By all accounts, Sigurbjörn Þorgrímsson not only brought rave to Iceland but also built it into a tangible scene. A schoolboy who had his head turned by the new hardcore sound emerging in the UK, he and a friend, Þórhallur Skúlason, started making primitive imitations on a home computer in 1990. Two years later they released a 12-inch as Ajax, which also marked the first ever appearance of Goldie on a record: the future Metalheadz boss and Celebrity Big Brother contestant contributed vocals to ‘Ruffige’ while on holiday. By 1994, Þorgrímsson had gone solo under the name Biogen, and from then until his death in 2011, aged 34, was most closely associated with that moniker. The story sounds a bit ‘generic 90s techno’, I’ll grant you, but dive into the music he left behind and you’ll find it's anything but.

Halogen Continues is just under an hour of Biogen archive tracks – either unheard or privately released – compiled by Icelandic dub techno sort Ruxpin and released by Nina Kraviz on her трип label. There’s no information about when anything was recorded, which I suspect is intentional. As with Selected Ambient Works-era Aphex, who Biogen was often compared to (simplistically, if not wholly unreasonably), trying to chart an arc of supposed progress is a fool’s errand, plus leaving off dates ramps up the mythic factor.

Whether in power-techno, breakbeat or trippy beatless mode, Þorgrímsson’s productions have a pre-millennial feel to them: analogue imperfections retained for character, the hissing jabs on ‘Lag 24’ perhaps either from malfunctioning tapes or overheating pistons. ‘Borealis’ starts with a galumphing hardcore break and a sped-up John Carpenter melody, before pushing itself into a dustcloud of distorted kicks; the more or less self-explanatory ‘160 Techno’ is a brain-bleeding acid stomp that sounds like something Chris Liberator would have used to split white-dreaded wigs in a mid-90s Hackney warehouse. The first part of the title ‘303 Ambient’ is more indicative of its sound than the second: Roland squelch and brisk, clattery drums, this time reminding me of hearing those Universal Indicator records for the first time.

Biogen did have a nice line in ambient, though: ‘Autofloat’, an intoxicating fog of keyboards which drone and arpeggiate, almost Terry Riley-like; ‘Bliss’, originally released in 1996 and bold/shameless enough to actually puncture its giant synth sweeps with samples of waves breaking on the shore; ‘Forever Is Never Again’, beat-driven but in possession of a pristine melody that Warp-era Black Dog wouldn’t have recycle binned; and the title track, which closes the album with inscrutable, lower-than-low-key somnambulance (in that it actually sounds like a recording of someone or something in its sleep).

I’ll cheerfully admit to being late to the Biogen party, knowing nothing about Sigurbjörn Þorgrímsson – who also had a label, Thule, and co-founded an electronic collective called Weirdcore – until Halogen Continues dropped in the inbox. Yet very little I’ve heard this year, dance music or otherwise, has been as affecting and intriguing. There are people on the current fringes of techno crafting comparable jams (Karen Gwyer, Chrononautz and Container all spring to mind), but this collection feels, in the best way, like the product of a different era – and an unlikely, wildly creative place.