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Album Of The Week

Techno For An Answer: Blawan’s Wet Will Always Dry
Bob Cluness , June 14th, 2018 07:53

He’s made a load of deliciously cantankerous EPs and now he’s blowing our grateful minds with a debut album of dense, twitching techno

For many electronic music producers, once you’ve finished toiling at a selection of tracks, there is the immediate desire to get those beats out into the wild. It stands to reason: after spending hours crouched at your studio consoles, crafting what you hope are perfect dancefloor weapons, you want people to hear the fruits of you labour. When it comes to making the album, however, said producer will often start ‘experimenting’, using the opportunity to stretch their artistic chops and expanding their palette beyond the 4/4 beat matrix. Using a range of rhythms, textures and even ‘concepts’, the dance music album is often approached as a statement of depth and taste, and the results are often a mixed blessing at best.

That’s what makes Jamie Roberts aka Blawan’s debut album Wet Will Always Dry such a surprising and refreshing listen. In typical fashion, Roberts has gone arse about face in his approach. Instead of making straight-out warehouse bangers ready for 12” releases and then being all noodling and quasi-musical when it comes to albums, Roberts has spent the last few years finessing and exploring the limits of modular synthesis as dance music on a series of 12” releases, before bombarding us with an album of dense, twitching techno that contains little in the way of needless noodling or flabby ‘creative’ meandering. The whole album is primed with lean, purposeful tracks containing a mesh hybrid of simulated fractal modular geometry and stern rhythms designed to carve away at your pineal gland.

It’s been a long way coming to this point. From his first salvos as a restrained, bass-heavy producer several years ago with his Fram EP on Hessle Audio, he broke from his leash and became known for a series of deliciously cantankerous, slightly off-the-rails productions. EPs such as Bohla and What You Do With What You Have on R&S Records, Long Distance Open Water Worker on Black Sun, and His He She & She on Hinge Finger (containing his most famous track, ‘Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage’), as well as collaborations with Pariah and Surgeon (for the respective projects Karenn and Trade), saw Roberts deploying a hardware-generated sound that had a sweaty, noisy, unkempt British sensibility: working class techno that threw up the kitchen sink before necking a handful of eccies and stomping taps-aff onto the floor for six hours straight.

But after a break of a few years, Blawan re-emerged in 2015 with a new label, Ternsec, and a deviated sensibility to his productions, as he began to delve into a modular synth rack set-up. A trio of EPs – Warm Tonal Touch, Hanging Out The Birds and The Communicat 1022 EP – were exercises in expanding his soundsystem productions with the smear and jagged gurgles of self-generating soundwaves, as sawtooth bumps, percussions and basslines underwent various reprogrammings. The resulting tracks, while undeniably booming and throbbing, felt slightly estranged from the dancefloor, like freefloating ideas in a constant state of becoming, not yet sure of what direction they were taking. But by the time of last year’s EP, Nutrition, we were starting to see the some of the shapes that his work on modular synthesis was forming. These were hollowed out, tracks from the bowels of the earth, made to be played during the graveyard shift on the dancefloor, where the senses are totally frayed and the muscles are acting like spasmed jellyfish. Tracks like ‘993’ echoed some of the weird modulated glottal vocals being accomplished by Errorsmith on Superlative Fatigue, while ‘Mayhem’ delivered modular tones that had the acrid quality of licking a battery.

And now with Wet Will Always Dry we have the first real fruits of Roberts’ toil with the filters and oscillators. The opening track ‘Klade’ immediately feels different to all his previous modular efforts. The stuttering spluttering of his machines as they fire up and start talking to each other settles into a thick sludge of ominous synth buzz that swells and strafes over the horizon, while low-end kicks and sonar pings herald their approach. If you were to wage a future mecha-war in the urban jungles, this is what you’d want playing as your drone swarms swoop down on their prey.

Throughout the album you feel that the punchy directness of each track leaves more than enough room for you to get lost in the intricacies of the sound design and construction. On ‘Tasser’ or ‘Kalosi’, modular lines and tones that are the singing voice of machine intelligence; their syncopated crunches and harmonic shrills are in perfect tune with the deep bass and low-end booms and pulses. Wet Will Always Dry reaches a primordial inhuman sublime on ‘North’ – the album’s high point, where Roberts’ modular systems writhe and squirm, an entanglement of ever-unfolding tendrils and assemblages spewing out error bleeps, uncanny fluctuations and degenerated waveforms. Roberts’ techno babies are restless motors of artificial vitality, mutating and expanding automations full of a desire to communicate with us.

Underneath the layers of distorted circuitry and the frenzy at the heart of Wet Will Always Dry, there are signs of Roberts’ presence at the tiller in the form of ghostly, faded vocals - a deep and hidden unconsciousness that drives the album along. On ‘Careless’, as the techno machines repeat their incessant metallic call-signs, you can hear his voice drift over the track with a cold eerie pallor. It continues on ‘Stell’ where, among the adulterated, wobbling blocks of cyberpunk bass, Roberts can be heard uttering vague glossolalia that chimes with the modular set-up in front of him. It’s as if Roberts as the human producer and conductor of proceedings has ceded control and now merely exists as a ghost in the album. His studio is running on its own and making its own language now.

Fellow UK producer and techno veteran Surgeon recently released Luminosity Device, also a collection of pummelling modular techno that hints at esoteric, spiritual and almost meditative qualities. Here, like Surgeon, Roberts has made a breakthrough with an album of extremely tactile, kinaesthetic techno that has a resilient mystery and the potential to excite and disturb the senses. Underneath the brute materialism of the domineering kick and industrial outhouse aesthetics, there are moments of deftness, such as on the closing track ‘Nims’, where the music slowly rises past the hardened structures as a soft drone glides on the thermals and modular chirrups sound out overhead. It’s a fitting climax to an album that has Blawan back and showing us why he matters to us techno heads.