Breaking The Raves: Absurd Matter By Shapednoise

After experiencing sudden hearing loss, Shapednoise explores the terror, anxiety, power and jubilation of noise. It’s his most complete offering yet, says Skye Butchard

Shapednoies pic by Leonardo Scotti

“When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty”. This was the slogan used by Sicilian protesters of Italy’s anti-rave laws last December. These draconian measures introduced by Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing coalition make it so that those planning illegal gatherings in unoccupied buildings could result in three-to-six-years in prison – a punitive sentence more severe than that for kidnapping, which carries a six-month minimum sentence. The legislation also grants powers to surveil groups suspected of holding illegal raves, even going so far as to allow wiretapping. It’s a harsh and reactionary response, which threatens the existence of a vibrant Italian subculture, one that has existed on the fringes since the early 90s.

Still, the party goes on. Italy’s thriving rave scene survives through these measures, and ravers continue to both party and protest. The current moment has underlined the intrinsic link between countercultural musical expression with wider community action. As anonymous members of #smashrepression put it to Resident Advisor, “We will let our government know that this isn’t just about raves, but about repression of our rights.” Partygoers have become galvanised, using the threat to nightlife as an opportunity to discuss freedom of expression, bodily autonomy and a rejection of social norms.

A rave can be more than a rave. Noise can be more than noise. Sicilian-born producer and DJ Shapednoise (né Nino Pedone) has made that clear across his hard-hitting and explorative noise-techno discography. On his fourth album Absurd Matter, he pulls from his early involvement with illegal raves, as well as recent life-changing experiences with hearing loss, to make a personal and political collection that sharpens all sides of his decade-long discography. Written after a period where he was unable to produce or attend events, it’s a reflective collection about both body and mind.

The record opens with crumbling textures that evoke abandoned buildings and sheet metal. David Lynch collaborator Dean Hurley lends his sound design to an eerie mood-setter that underlines the album’s caustic palette. Kick drums lurch through the darkness like an ancient beast has been awoken. In these abstract moments, Shapednoise still crafts something visceral and full of character.

But the record’s true success is in how it contorts the familiar shapes of club music, like techno, grime and especially hip-hop. The album’s first complete offering ‘Family’ is with duo Armand Hammer. It’s as layered and brutal as any of the recent material billy woods and Elucid have made together. On it, the duo speak in oracular chants. They reference stolen land and OnlyFans, hinting at generational atrocities and a hellish present. “I’m not supposed to be here”, woods repeats, as spewing industrial noises swallow all the space around him. The vocalists become stretched textures within the chaos.

It’s an anxious and disorienting approach. Shapednoise knows how much firm ground to allow us. His beats hint at classic party sounds just enough to give them a restless forward momentum. Take ‘Savage Mindedness’, where droning frequencies and clattering vacuum-packed samples eventually give way to a beat that’s borderline danceable. It’s a satisfying moment that reveals the humour hiding under a sinister presentation. What first seems mechanical and alien shape-shifts into something human and relatable. Pedone’s clear passion and knowledge for club music shines through, here and throughout. (That’s even more obvious in his DJ sets: in a recent excellent mix for The Wire, he gleefully smashes up Jockstrap, Beyoncé, Little Simz and, of course, ‘Country Riddim’).

Pedone teams up with French producer Brodinski and Detroit rapper Zelooperz on ‘Know Yourself’, where cacophonous distortion is chiselled into something more malleable. Zeloopers’ wild and loose delivery brings a welcome dose of levity. He also first fell in love with weirdo outsider art in raves and warehouses, which perhaps explains why he sounds so natural over Pedone’s unwieldy production.

The album’s final vocal guest is just as fiery and comfortable lurking in decayed noise. Moor Mother’s appearance on ‘Poetry’ makes so much sense that it borders on obvious, but the Philadelphia artist isn’t one to deliver exactly what you expect. Her brash, breathy verses turn the record’s harsh soundplay into a source of power. “You can’t cancel me,” she grins in villain mode, revelling in the destruction. Pedone matches her with guttural bass rumbles and shotgun snares. It’s a cathartic moment, and a highpoint on the record.

Pedone is just as confident and swaggering on ‘Weighty!’, where percussion and bass swirl around like pieces of debris sucked into a tornado. You can imagine him stood in the centre, arms raised like Magneto. Halfway through, he dials up the camp and drops us into silence, before unleashing the racket again.

The record’s final third delves further into crushing bass and overwhelming climaxes. ‘Metal’ and ‘Twisted Skills’ are relentless and physical offerings. On the former, scattershot drum sequences become more hectic and playful, until there’s no choice but for them to collapse in on themselves. ‘Twisted Skills’ churns in slow-motion. Each piercing drum hits with a huge impact. Both tracks push the bass frequencies to extreme levels, mining the depths of your speakers with no care for what your neighbours might be up to.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Pedone is leaning more on the tactile response of lower bass frequencies given his recent life-changing experiences with hearing loss. At times, the record feels coloured by the isolation and anxiety that can arise from that kind of sudden change. But just as present is a focus on community, collaboration and echoes of long-lost club nights.

Despite the consistency of its extreme presentation, Absurd Matter is a deceptively varied record. Noise becomes a Rorschach for a range of emotions. There’s the apathy of present-day politics and total escapism from it. There’s personal anxiety and public jubilation. Noise can be a horrifying metaphor for the weight of oppression, or a source of power to use against it. It’s a harsh world out there, but the party carries on – even if it’s decayed and fragmented.

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