Until last month my recollection of Brad Anderson and Scott Kosar’s ‘The Machinist‘ was vague, the movie long ago pushed to the back of my subconscious. Demdike Stare’s Wonderland however, has brought it, or a warped memory of it, into shocking clarity.
Demdike Stare’s music has long held hallucinatory properties, but triggering a Christian Bale themed Proustian moment is extreme, even for them. Probably not intentionally, but Wonderland’s emaciated beats, metallic textures and disorientating changes of pace call to mind the film’s industrial noir tones, sharp contrasts and creeping delusion.
Dropped with no warning on Modern Love, Wonderland is an album of sudden tangents and twists, abrupt changes of pace and intricate details that, like the Machinist, take time to unveil their complexity and ingenuity. It lurches through genres and BPMs, both within and between tracks. Somehow it holds together; sustaining a relentless atmosphere of grey euphoria without ever feeling forced.
"Wonderland is rooted in the history of dance music, taking rhythms, grooves and structures from across the club spectrum. These beats however, have been mangled, tangled and twisted into weird new shapes.
More than anything in their catalogue, Wonderland is rooted in the history of dance music, taking rhythms, grooves and structures from across the club spectrum. These beats however, have been mangled, tangled and twisted into weird new shapes. The resulting tracks similar in style to the hard cut sound collages of turntablist Christian Marclay.
‘Hardnoise‘ is the record at its most adventurous, boasting an arrangement which shows Demdike Stare’s skills at their best. Its ten minutes could almost be broken down into acts, separate sections linked by a narrative. The opening part sounds like a techno record smashed into pieces before being placed on the turntable. It’s followed by a sudden rush of percussion akin to a worker going postal in a factory; which in turn abruptly peels away into a stark minimal techno groove. As a crescendo feels imminent, it twists again, this time into wandering synth arpeggios – the sudden burst of prettiness so unexpected its arrival is like a kick in the stomach.
The production throughout hints at the same dark, urban universe conjured by HELM on “Impossible Symmetry“, providing a monotone electrical hum to counteract the manic explosions of techno, drum and bass, and jungle beats. Opening track ‘Curzon‘ is built on a frantic rhythm which constantly builds in complexity, while beneath a machine whirr stays constant in its bare simplicity. ‘Animal Style’s‘ stuttering grime beat and vocal sample grind to a halt, falling into a warm beatless bed of field recordings and reverb. Again, the transitions and sequencing between sections are stunning in their seamlessness.
"A peerless knack for sonic collision and ambitious sequencing remains a hallmark of Demdike Stare's sound, but the world they've created this time is colder, harsher and rooted in the here and now."
The mixture of dubby textures, occult vibes and library samples that made up Demdike Stare’s earliest releases, a sound which seemed to pull Coil’s ominous dirge towards a club setting, has left its mark on a host of producers since. Four year’s after the EP compilation album “Elemental” however, Demdike Stare have moved far into new territory – the frantic skipped beats and blasted vocal samples of ‘Sourcer‘ and the off kilter techno-dancehall collision of (FullEdge eMpTy – 40 Mix) much faster and more direct than anything on their previous full lengths.
Clues to this shift have been present in the intervening years. The duo’s Testpressing Series, a collection of white label 12″s which took in sounds ranging from jungle to noise, showed that they were veering into new territories, pulling away from the warm, if moody sound of their early recordings. Wonderland is a continuation and refined culmination of that period of anything goes experimentation. A peerless knack for sonic collision and ambitious sequencing remains a hallmark of Demdike Stare’s sound, but the world they’ve created this time is colder, harsher and rooted in the here and now.
It’s a new fixation which becomes clearest on ‘Fridge Challenge‘, the album’s least elaborate track. Its three minutes of high, crisp, chilling synth lines are closed out with a field recording of a computerised airport announcement drolly listing details for an upcoming flight to Brasilia. It’s a microcosm of the album as a whole, a twisting of familiar sounds into unfamiliar contexts.
The Machinist is so effective because it subtly distorts the relatable into an unrelatable extreme. With Wonderland, Demdike Stare have done the same with the history of dance music.
Wonderland is out now, order a copy from Boomkat.
2. Animal Style
5. FullEdge (eMpty-40 Mix)
7. Airborne Latency
8. Fridge Challenge