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Rutger Hauser
The Swim Luke Cartledge , July 2nd, 2019 09:29

Second album by South-East London experimentalists Rutger Hauser feels playful and inquisitive, finds Luke Cartledge

Somewhere between the two chronological and stylistic extremes of the South London experimental canon, partially bridging the gap between the uncompromising future-building of This Heat and the caterwauling noise-funk of Black Midi, lie improv-rock sextet, Rutger Hauser.

Centred upon the arts collective and record label The Lumen Lake, the members of Rutger Hauser have all been involved in the more fertile corners of the SE sonic vanguard for some time now, and on The Swim, their second album, it shows. There’s a real sense of purpose here, a potent mix of clarity of intent and joyous possibility that betrays a certain comfort not only with each other as artists, but with the context in which the band are operating.

What’s fascinating about The Swim, then – amongst other things – is Rutger Hauser’s deliberate upending of that context. To create the record, they decamped to the Faroe Islands, taking up residence in a community hall in Velbastaður, a village on the starkly dramatic west coast of the island of Streymoy. Without wanting to caricature the nature of either Lewisham or Velbastaður, or exaggerate the contrast between the two, this geographical and psychological shift leaves an acute impression on every sound here.

Take a track like ‘Maximum Tourist’: warped cello, bass and electric guitar flicker atop drizzling percussion, creating something that’s at once tactilely organic and disarmingly mechanical in nature. It’s not that this is some cartoonish odd-couple juxtaposition between a primitive island setting and a hifalutin, technologically-adventurous group of metropolitan artists – one of the members of Rutger Hauser is himself Faroese, and one would hardly be able to make a record like this in some premodern backwater devoid of decent audio gear. Yet it’s hard to ignore the pervasion of the band’s environment here, the essential nature of their context to their output, and there’s something undeniably impressive, and occasionally moving, about that.

The Swim is testament to the uniquely open, porous nature of improvised music; skilfully delivered yet invitingly playful and inquisitive, it never feels obtuse or inaccessible. There’s something about the indeterminacy of the record that gives it an amorphous quality, making it feel markedly different from listen to listen. What results is a work of gentle exhilaration, that feels as profound when listened to on the 21 bus as it does when consumed way beyond the clamour of the city.