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Son Zept
B Stevie Lennox , October 7th, 2020 08:44

Northern Ireland's Son Zept re-synthesises electronic music history into an electrifying machine for transforming the present, finds Stevie Lennox

Falling roughly on the same axis as a Oneohtrix Point Never or Aphex Twin, Liam McCartan, AKA Son Zept is fast becoming Northern Ireland’s resident electronic compositional polymath. With a inclination toward frenetic, polypattern break beats and synapse-frying euphoria, his January-released EP, A was described by tQ as “an electrifying hodgepodge of billowing techno, skittering Drukqs-isms and distorted ambience”. That remains broadly true of B, the midpoint of a planned trilogy of alphabetically-named releases. But, without dramatically shifting his status quo, it sees his most frenzied elements distilled into something that resembles his most straightforward, overtly ‘club’ release to date.

Even at its most low-key, ideas are reframed through an underlying hyperactive tension. Opener 'I'm Gonna Fuckin' Win', for example, was written in the hours after viewing Uncut Gems (scored by Daniel Lopatin) and it shows, while the uniquely percussive ‘Trophy Run’ veers into stress vomit territory. Containing all the requisite components to synthesise the by proxy club excitement of playing Wipeout 2097 for the first time, ‘Noise Sign’ begs for crossover potential, with almost Knife-ish melodic, throbbing beats. Dial-up fever dream ‘Lush Lab’ approaches the kind of psychedelic electronic moodiness spawned by the likes of Manuel Göttsching or Harald Grosskopf, as it begs to be hooked up to NuLife Perpetual Storage. The line in the sand between then and now, however, is in McCartan’s lack of sentimentality on a groove in favour of perpetual forward-motion.

Turning further inward toward the mini-album’s back half, its most emotive track, perhaps ironically, is ‘1,000,000 Machines’, which comes across as reverse engineered, pointillist Philip Glass, reassembled from its constituent sonic granules. Similarly, ‘Windowatching’ casts a warmer look through its digital eye in its exploration of what sonder might sound like. What started as ostensibly a way for McCartan to explore and celebrate everything he loves about electronic music within and beyond its supposed conventions in order to discover his own sensibilities has become a far reaching project that draws you into its own imagined worlds.

At its most intense, B carries the intense headrush of an epileptic episode, an overwhelming grey zone between dysphoria and oneness, which isn’t always easily navigable. At its best, it sounds like you’re alone in a casino in a William Gibson novel, and every machine just hit the jackpot, and you know you’re being watched. B is another stepping stone toward Son Zept’s unison of theory and praxis. Yes, it’s a love letter to techno, jungle, house, power ambient and even atmospheric black metal, but McCartan’s own voice bears too distinct an imprint to be audibly timestamped to an era other than the present.