Silent Servant

Negative Fascination

An old man called Bob Dylan once said something useful like, "it may be the Devil, it may be the Lord, but sooner or later, you’re going to have to serve somebody." And when you do, it’s probably best not to make a big thing of it. That seems to be the driving modus operandi behind Juan Mendez, aka Silent Servant, who’s stoically been serving the darkened, after-hours crowd something decent by which to swing and sway for well over a decade. His sizable oeuvre on the Historia y Violencia label, and with the on-hiatus Sandwell District collective, is among the best no-bullshit techno of the naughties. So, it’s a bit surprising that Negative Fascination is Mendez’s debut full-length. And it arrives not a moment too soon, making a haunted house a home on Dominick Fernow’s Hospital Productions.

Mendez’s works aren’t churned out as blog fodder afterthoughts; they are empowered by a significant amount of contemplation around what good dance music does: moves bodies, tells stories, alters minds. Track titles like ‘The Silent Morning’ and ‘The Blood of Our King’ are concurrently inviting and impenetrable; the printed one-sheets which ran with the earlier Sandwell releases feature images of leather and denim clad rockers with gaping wild animal mouths for heads. Appropriately, the minimal paratext accompanying Silent Servant’s new recording reads, "We are mutations of the modern age. Freedom is at will always and forever." Its press release explains, "Negative Fascination bridges disparate factions on ideological grounds," and a sublime object of ideology it is.

Beginning with the instructively titled ‘Process (Introduction)," this collection of seven songs unfolds something akin to an alternate alchemical transformation, rising from the fiery soup of vague rhythms and frequencies, bifurcating, fermenting, mercurially coagulating. ‘Invocation of Lust’ is a sexily sinister affair, scuzzy beats layered beneath sad-romanced string pads and masculine whisperings gapped-and-snipped beyond decipherability. The album hits its stride by ‘The Strange Attractor’, a pulse-raiser that seductively conjoins steamy, tranced out vocal inflections to an urgent, vacillating tribal tempo.

‘Temptation and Desire’ opens the second side with a debauched post-punk stomp, its glassy melodies out of tune, slightly, just enough to annoy you into late-night, deeply hallucinatory terrain. Above all, Mendez paints in a deformed urban palette, with the noises of industry and reiterative motion, electrical hum, jackhammers and pile-drivers and vehicles backing up, flirting with mechanical tones and temporalities: i.e. the beat stops when the train’s gone past, or when construction is done; it doesn’t really give a damn whether or not you work in the morning.

In Gilles Deleuze’s prophetic ideological diatribe Postscript on the Societies of Control, he writes, "There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons." And a rusty shiv in the hand is worth two in the bush, as suggested by Negative Fascination‘s switchblade-and-roses imagery. Should we not all come to a disasterouly utopian end up in some premediated armageddon, it shall be interesting to hear how Silent Servant’s already mighty opus progresses. Paraphrasing Deleuze’s final thoughts, it’s up to each of us to determine which masters we serve, and Mendez is ultimately in the service of something quite sacred: the bloody dance floor.

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