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Two Shell
Icons Jaša Bužinel , July 26th, 2022 07:55

The mysterious Two Shell return with more post-singularity techno sounds

It is genuinely refreshing that I do not have to discuss stories about self-disclosure regarding the artists behind a certain electronic music project, which is one of the most annoying PR tactics when it comes to the contemporary dance scene (as if minor personal experiences really influence the production of generic and hackneyed four-to-the-floor bangers). Still, the story behind the enigmatic UK techno duo Two Shell is one of guess and wonder, to the extent that our post-Covid minds, which are way more attuned to conspiracy-driven debates than before, have started to make up theories about Two Shell being one of the most brilliant industry plant projects of our time. The Twitter memes about them being just “overmono for heads who say overmono is bicep for heads” added even more fuel to one of the most hilarious post-Burial identity inquiries. It is not as if stans are really trying to get their addresses and mugshots, though. Contrarily, it feels like people are intentionally adding even more mystique to their presence. It is a messy and manufactured hype (although we do not know by whom) that has at least injected some much needed vitality to the contemporary dance music scene.

Two Shell’s rise to prominence, which can be attributed both to their outstanding productions as well as their elusive internet personas and make-believe DJ sets (some are actually annoyed by this, citing Sophie as a predecessor of this stunt and unjustly forgetting to give credit to all the EDM DJs in the process), is unfolding almost too smoothly as if following a detailed script written by the UK music industry overlords. Ultimately though, it does not even matter. Two Shell is one of the few acts from the “techno” realm which is actively trying to turn things a bit upside down and sideways instead of returning to the same ol’ pre-pandemic ways. Admittedly, one could hardly believe that the industry has actually become so meta that they would be taking the piss out of itself by helping set up such an act.

The urge to attach a face to music seems to be unstoppable, and it is comical that the duo gave its first interview (now destroyed and gone) to The Face. Since I was late to the party and did not manage to salvage it, all I could make out of it is that “they’re not trolling”, which was quite obvious from the get go. I mean, how else could you explain their fast-paced development since their Livity Sound debut in 2019, their obsessiveness with outlandish video game/alternative reality imagery and the abundance of references to post-2000s pop music which are attentively engineered to make us feel like a proper human being from the 21st century? There is definitely a deeper, more genuine intent behind it.

Interestingly, the release of their latest EP Icons (which follows the success of the last year’s stunning single ‘Home’, the weird af eternal seed mixtape and other top notch releases on their label Mainframe Audio and Livity Sound, among them an A.I. version of their next release [round]) coincided with the internet hype around the free image generator DALL·E mini. This amusing tool uses AI to produce often humorously grotesque and amorphous digital images based on the text you put in. It is mostly used to produce memes, but it got me thinking that a similar aesthetic can be found in the music of one of the most talked-about UK acts at the moment. On Icons, highly detailed textures blend into one another, creating newborn sonic mutations, while cyborg vocals conjure images of some superintelligence guiding us through cyberspace.

Icons could be music produced by an AI sound generator analogous to DALL·E mini. Opening track ‘Ghosts’ sounds like someone fed the AI with the words “koreless livity sound superband four tet jamie xx Sophie’s hologram tuuuuuune” while ‘Pods’ comes across something like “hyperpop screamo emo syncopated UK techno beats superb sound design”. The patina of their productions is key here. It is gorgeous how they layer their shiver-inducing textures into multidimensional soundscapes. There is really a fresh hyperdigital dimension to their sound palette, giving the impression of a hyperactive AI entity churning out sounds of pleasure. But there is also a lot of attention directed to tension-building and release, jerky arrangements and quirky personal touches. Each of their tracks is singular in nature and specific in the affects it provokes. ‘Dust’ could be translated into AI instructions as “Hyph Mngo rework 2022 summer banger video game simulation experience” and ‘Memory’ as “Two Shell like in 2019 but better”.

Closing with the big beat 3.0 stomper ‘Mainframe’, Two Shell shows where things could go in the future. The over-saturated and crunchy patina of its beats, vocal chops, faux-scratches and basslines is akin to Blawan’s modular explorations on his last EP Woke Up Right Handed, especially the track ‘Under Belly’ – it is wonky, funny and slams hard – in short, digital psychedelia at its finest. Is the EP a tongue-in-cheek self-proclamation of two icons in the making? (some writers cannot but help themselves to already cite them along with names like Disclosure, the Chemical Brothers and the KLF, not to mention the obvious picks Overmono and Bicep). For now, though, this really feels like a side note. Icons is the product of the coming together of a decade of UK bass/dance music mutations and post-internet aesthetics, finally coalescing into an utterly entertaining post-pandemic music gem. I just hope that the hype that surrounds their music and anonymity does not spoil their distinct vision of new gen dance music, which is undoubtedly one of the most thrilling of our era.