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John Heckle: Desolate Figures

You remember that bar scene in Star Wars: the one where moon faced aliens jam futuro-jazz on bizarre instruments? At times during ‘Desolate Figures’ I can’t help but think of that bar, but this time it’s 4am, things are cranked up and our moon faced friends are producing other worldly wonk from their kit.

In reality, ‘Desolate Figures‘ is the sound of Merseyside based Heckle whose distorted hardware aesthetic has graced numerous labels from Creme Organisation to Mathematics. This, his second full length, builds upon the speaker disruption of 2011 debut ‘The Second Son’. Essentially it’s a unique take on early Chicago House with a bit of Detroit thrown in for good measure – delivering similar rawness across a sound undoubtedly rooted in the past yet, in these hands, one that’s warped through an oddly genius modernistic prism.

This isn’t an album drenched in advanced sound design minutiae and in the box processing. For the most it’s outboard hardware gear with the Roland TR 707 seemingly taking centre stage on percussion. Many of the tracks feel properly live, like the machines will still be running long after fade out with Heckle still jamming on his Juno 106.

Heckle’s music is hard to describe yet somehow strangely accessible and appealing to the ears. Frankenstein’s Sweet Nectar and Something For Your Distorted Mind are imbued with such a sense of the bizarre they could be theme tunes to screwball alien TV game shows. The former delivers a thumping kick snare combo against a backdrop of mechanoid scrapings and simple yet effective synth noodling. The latter flirts with semi-demented jazz synth improv underpinned with an urgent, thrusting bass progression. Both are thoroughly excellent oddities for ears and feet.

There’s much harking back to motifs from the early years of techno with Death of a Spaceman pitching madcap Millsian arps across 303 and a brutalist 4/4 whomp. On Never With Youplucked strings, rim shots and further 303 work explore darker and more obscure musical angles whilst Power of Twosees thin pads float across slower motion yet no less urgent percussion.

As a bit of a stalwart of early house and techno I can’t help but love Heckle’s style, it’s a sound both unique and compelling – invoking memories of Bandulu, Jeff Mills and Ron Trent. Yet, somehow it doesn’t flounder in the past and, within the limitations of the kit Heckle so obviously uses, it’s tantamount to his skill and originality as a producer that it all hangs together so brilliantly.

‘Desolate Figures’ is released on November 18th on Tabernacle. John Heckle plays live at Machine / I Love Acid Xmas Special on Friday 20th December.