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Marc Neyen: A Walk Nearby

Every now and then a record comes along that doesn’t seem to get the praise and recognition it deserves. Not from the record-buying and playing cognoscenti, who we trust to rise above the hubbub of promotion, but in terms of journalistic coverage. As a result, I thought I would return to a release from earlier this year for a retrospective review: Marc Neyen – “A Walk Nearby”, which originally appeared during July 2008 on Jonas Wahrlich’s underrated Hamburg imprint Eminor (refresher: the guys with the wonderfully parochial, music theoretical startup concept.)

Marc Neyen’s personal history reads like the Squarepusher-endorsed, textbook basis for creating quality electronic music. Born and raised in Luxembourg, Neyen got introduced to music at the age of 8 by taking trumpet lessons, followed by a classical music education and later on higher studies in jazz; an environment that provided a fertile furrow in which the sounds and variations of electronic music could take root. From there – as befits our textbook’s reclusive perfectionist – his output has been extremely sporadic, with just a single and an E.P. on Archipel in 2007. Against this backdrop, “A Walk Nearby” can be properly appreciated, and what an appreciation there is to indulge in.

Imagine a spectrum where the freewheeling sound design and compositional experimentalism of great ambient and IDM exists at one end, while the other is populated by the pure sonic, kinetic functionalism of machine techno. Neyen apparently disregards such dichotomies. “A Walk Nearby” is that rare thing; a truly deep, engaging and cerebral electronic composition that is still primitive and visceral enough to dance to. Neyen achieves this through utterly eschewing techno’s genre conventions, instead combining soundscape and ambient elements with bumping, inchoate subbass, skittering drums and insistent high frequency cross-talk. Timbrally the obvious touchstone is the dub techno of Basic Channel, but without a reliance on the “neo-vintage” techniques one associates within that lexicon. The effect while played over good audio equipment is an almost tangible, tactile sensation: one has the distinct sense of being enveloped, or perhaps more appositely, falling through and into the soundscape.

He also refuses, crucially, to employ structures that typically encourage dancefloor participation; rather; he controls the morphing of one groove to an equally rarified iteration with seamless brilliance, each exhorting a subtly different cerebral and physical response from the listener. Certainly in the absence of more explicit narratives within electronic dance music, arrangements can nicely fill that void; but Neyen clearly embraces the nothingness, and beseeches his listeners into it, smothering them in pithy darkness.

Mixes on the 4 track package come from one of Argentina’s promising new breed of techno producers, Seph, who takes things down a more self-consciously moody route while retaining the cavernous hue of the original; Neyen’s Eminor cohort Jason Emsley; and a reworking of Neyen’s own. However, the original is without question the truly outstanding production here.

“A Walk Nearby” is high end, sophisticated and intelligent techno that you can do any number of edifying things to; including, most certainly, dance.