Release Date: 13/02/2014
Moe Espinosa, who produces techno under the name Drumcell, has spoken previously about his involvement in punk bands growing up in Los Angeles, and an interest in ‘aggressive’ music; which has manifested itself in an engagement with industrial, noise, and more experimental strands of electronic music, rather than simply quotidian club music. This broader outlook finds expression in CLR’s first release of 2014, which sees three musicians from various backgrounds interpret ‘Speak Silence’, a cut from the Californian’s debut LP Sleep Complex, which was released at the end of last summer on the same label. Sleep Complex was a clear progression from Espinoza’s releases on his own Droid Recordings, marking another waypoint in the course of industrial-tinged techno that has its roots in the 1990s, such as in the so-called ‘Birmingham Sound’. Like Karl O’Connor and others associated with the Downwards label, a key node that Birmingham scene, Espinosa is not afraid to play with hardware, or with structure, often drifting from the confines of a steady 4/4.
The original ‘Speak Silence’ is included here along with the remixes. Characterised by a half-tempo kick drum, the track lumbers along lugubriously, but never stumbling. Each kick punctures space like a piece of assembly line machinery unremittingly stamping down upon all that comes before it, before being fleshed out with a collection of whirring arpeggios and a humanoid voice talking almost at a drawl. Espinosa has also talked of a desire to stay true to techno’s historical character of being ‘raw, dirty, hypnotic, and repetitive’, which he achieves on ‘Speak Silence’ through the almost perpetual pulsing of the aforementioned kick, which draws in everything around it into orbit with gravitational force.
Slumberman is a name I was unfamiliar with, and who I have struggled to track down almost any information at all about, save the hint in Speak Silence’s press release, which claims that ‘there are rumours that the creator of this remix is the member of a much respected Rock band, but nothing has been confirmed yet…’. Whoever the mystery rockstar is, they change the mood of ‘Speak Silence’ dramatically by layering new chords over a regular 4/4 pulse and embalming the whole thing in a layer of gentle, distorted, haze. Whilst the chords don’t really do it for me, the grainy textures, particularly towards the end, resonate with me, and it demands a different kind of emotional engagement to the original.
Brian Sanhaji’s and Francesco Tristano’s remixes are where the release really shines however, each in virtue of quite different reasons. Sanhaji, who oversees mastering for CLR, is an unsurprising choice of remixer; but Tristano, a pianist and composer from Luxembourg, is a more surprising inclusion. Admittedly, Tristano has worked with Carl Craig, a name synonymous with techno; but Craig’s music has a warmth that Espinosa’s eshews and which makes the Detroit veteran a less unexpected collaborator.
Sanhaji’s re-work is the most straightforward and jackin’ piece of techno across the release, and is slightly less abrasive and chaotic than 2012’s Split Structure EP, a collaboration between Sanhaji and Espinosa also on CLR. Sanhaji turns out the most DJ-friendly of the four tracks, but to classify it as a mere DJ tool would belie the narrative and contours the track traces. The final three minutes transform the hypnotic trance induced by the original, turning the anxiety into a beautiful tension.
Much like Slumberman, Tristano effects a change in mood from anxiety and alienation to something more inviting, but harder to place, with a gentle piano melody and chords hinting at something just out of reach, beyond the horizon of meaning. Given it’s retention of the half-tempo kick and some of the rough timbres of the original, it’s surprising quite how pleasant and calming Tristano’s remix is. The meeting of styles here could create some sort of offensively inoffensive chillout music, but the result is actually quite extraordinary, a perfectly balanced eight minutes.