An unrelenting repetitive kick puts the listener in a trance-like state, while synthetic tones breach their subterranean dimensions, clouded in a noisy aura as they counter with a forceful legato. They swath everything in a thin layer of dust, enough to add a deeper dimension to the kicks monotonous drone without subverting its functional dance demands. This is Syndrome, the first cut from Ital’s debut solo outing on Gang of Ducks, Toxic Work Environment. On paper this looks like little more than the latest tedious adventures in to modern Techno’s stale and predictable world, but give it a moment and the opening track delivers much more than what its barren cover might first suggest. The syncopated hats offer a new rhythmical dimension to the kick droning on in 4/4, while the thin layer of synthesisers that coat the overall arrangement adds a surprising sense of progression to the track. Syndrome intrigues and lures the listener in, to the point where the repetitive beat is not as obvious as it first appears and drifts in and out of the listener’s conscious stream while the melodic parts ensure to hold your attention, even if it is only at a subconscious level. It’s functional with the focus clearly set on the dance floor, but there’s also something underscoring the track, something like a feeling, something brooding but not as obvious. It gives a tangible form to the track, and lets function play second fiddle for once.
It’s a sentiment that is carried across all four tracks of the release. The title track offers a more immediate appeal by adding some claps to the rhythm section, but it’s the magnanimous airy synthesisers that dominate the percussive section with a simple repetitive riff. It covertly suppresses the purpose of the kick-clap beat and adds that air of ominous foreboding that has become the calling card of the young Italian label. I venture ahead, but always with a sense of trepidation. Ital does well to perpetuate the feeling through the way he constructs his layers. There’s always some distance between the rhythm section and the melodies, working in unison to purport the dance function of the EP, without ignoring the immediate appeal of a simple yet absorbing melodic part. It’s something that comes together particularly well on Canker Sore. Many parts vie for your attention here, but nothing ever ventures into muddy territory as legato synthesisers delay into infinity and a punchy lower end keeps the progression moving forward. It’s inventive without falling into pure experimentalism, alluring and yet dismissive at the same time. Canker Sore makes it blatantly obvious that Toxic Work Environment is the best new Techno you will be most likely to hear today. While most artists working in the field have adopted the brazen Berghain aesthetic of the genre – some with more success than others – Techno has negated any sense of feeling, and depth has been waylaid for the superficiality of purpose. Toxic Work Environment gives us back some of that feeling back that we’ve lost in the vacuous industrial spaces of Berlin, without ignoring the functional demand that the music needs to survive. It makes The Citadel such a poignant closing track for the EP as it concludes in a beat-less arrangement featuring the same oppressive melancholic tones that have preceded it while demonic chatter bubbles up around the track. And while GOD’s beat-focussed rework has its own dance floor appeal, it’s almost a shame it exists at all and the EP would’ve been much more effective if it ended on the last few notes of Ital’s original. This flaw aside, I reiterate, Toxic Work Environment is the best new Techno you’ll hear today.