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Crash Recoil Kate French-Morris , March 21st, 2023 09:46

Anthony Child burnishes his reputation for dancefloor doof tempered by cinematic expansiveness, finds Kate French-Morris

“When you work in a certain way for a very long time you become comfortable,” said Anthony Child, aka Surgeon, in a 2017 interview with tQ. “Sometimes it's time to tear that all up and become uncomfortable again.” That attitude has kept Child at the forefront of UK techno for almost thirty years, and while it would be easy for a dance music veteran to coast on nostalgia, Crash Recoil, his first album as Surgeon since 2018, arrives as a galvanised exercise in spontaneity.

Child forged the record from the improvisational approach of live performances. Crash Recoil frequently mimics the flow of a Surgeon DJ set, structured around measured builds, momentum, and surprise. He’s no stranger to live tech experimentation. Decades of sticky nights at Birmingham’s House of God — not to mention an opening slot for Lady Gaga — stand testament to Child’s reputation as a titanic, often almost theatrical DJ. His studio releases have been equally exploratory, whether he’s recording rainforests, consulting an astrophysicist, or referring to the Tibetan Book Of The Dead. Then there were the three albums he released in the late 1990s on Berlin label Tresor (re-released as a compilation in 2015) that put him on the international dance music map.

The eight six-minute tracks of Crash Recoil, also released on Tresor, contain all the hallmarks of those Surgeon classics: the discipline and precision his alias suggests, amid a relentless skitter of programmed drums. He labours under the usual adjectives — industrial, brutalist — but that fails to acknowledge his ability to coax lightness out from percussive pummel. Opener 'Oak Bank' is typically fleet-footed, moving from tinny bounce to sweaty-room techno. Equally satisfying is the tactile clatter of 'Metal Pig'.

Any brutality is also tempered by Child’s characteristic ambient touch: the club frequently decamping to the cinema. The arpeggiated drama of 'Leadership Contest' could soundtrack a political thriller, until its rising synths blur into something more obscure, and 'We laugh and clap at the circus' creates the unsettling mood of a horror film. Synth pads breathe space into the intensity of 'Subcultures', while 'Hope Not Hate' ends on an unexpectedly grandiose note.

These details — wonky time structures, sonic UFOs — both cement Child’s reputation and offer a new lick of paint. Crash Recoil is as taut and sinewy as anything he’s done, yet there’s a certain looseness here too, a contemporary, accessible feel that suggests that by trying new things to break out of a creative rut, Surgeon is once again pushing the genre forward.