If Adam Curtis is right and we are indeed living within a broken a system where the economy is a malfunctioning machine its creators don’t understand; democracy is a thinly clad excuse for a war machine; and our reality is just an illusion, then the only acceptable soundtrack to our present time is Umwelt and Days of Dissent. It’s dark, sinister and emancipated from the sugar coated homogenised world in which it exists, favouring the truth of the objective machine above all else, and like Curtis, questions everything about the current landscape we find ourselves in, but from a musical perspective. This is Umwelt as a fixed constant, A French producer as a rare musical truth that’s existed since 1997 exactly like it does today, unpretentious, unwavering and above all, honest. The Lyon producer and DJ’s music has always confirmed to the simplest demands, using synthesisers and drum machines as an extension of the artist and his unique voice with a focus on a dance floor that has never left the confines of the warehouse rave. It’s an extension of expression that cuts through all the unnecessary layers, straight to the raw intensity of the moment, negating any influence of the outside world, and even the ubiquitous computer to get to the meat of a song. Umwelt’s intentions are made explicitly clear and direct as soon as the opening- and title track pounds out a vigorous kick/snare combination at a brisk 134 BPM. Any pretence that might have existed before it is left at the door as the track swells with syncopated synth-sequences, larger than life legato pad movements, and gated-reverb snares, whose top-end cascades against the thick echoing atmosphere that swathes the entire track. There’s a sense of gloom and foreboding that’s always existed in Umwelt’s music without any hint of dramatisation or posturing.
This is impart due to Umwelt’s working methods, which rely in a simple set-up straight from the machines to tape in one take, while negating any unnecessary influence from things like style, genre or trend. He’s released almost exclusively on his own labels, Shelter, Fundata, New Flesh and its sub-label Rave or Die; each it’s own little extension of his creative template, rooted in Electro, but often drifts over to Techno, Rave and even ambient moments as heard on New Flesh. These might be different styles of music, but they are all inexorably chained to the artistic voice behind them in textures and palettes that brood and glower from the darkest corners of the dance floor. Boidae and KilleKill label head Nico Deuster has been drawn to Umwelt and these darker corners since 1999’s City 12” and when Deuster booked the DJ for his Krake Festival he also learned a new truth: Umwelt often plays unreleased dubplates (cut from his own machine) during his set. It suggested a wealth of unreleased material exists, and Deuster set about trying to put some of these together as a 12” release. “I got 14 tracks and after weeks of trying to pick the best, I finally realized I held one of the best electro albums ever in my hand”, says Deuster in the press release.
I am in complete agreement, and like the unpretentious artist that exists behind the work it’s immediately captivating and unavoidable, without being aggressive. It’s an Electro album that explores the vastness of the genre where it can amongst other things, incorporate a four on the floor kick like in Company of Lies; be calm and reflective as with Factory of Death; and even hide a beat-less gem of a moment like Citadel of Chaos. What tie these very different and at times disparate moments together, is the artist and the sense of despair and melancholy he infects through every musical phrase. Distorted synthesisers on the edge of breaking, kick drums that pound with the purpose of a jackhammer without being obvious, atmospheres that echo through the vastness of space, and melodic- and harmonic movements that explore the sinister – they are all accounted for as elements that conspire distinctively as Umwelt. It’s something very unusual for an electronic music artist today, this sense of a unique singular voice, since so much gets swept up in trend, stylistic migrations, and technological advancements. Many artists making electronic music often lack a sense of security in their artistic voice as they hop on to the next influence, trend or evolution in their sound, forgetting to establish something concrete. Not Umwelt however and like the artists that exist in the same paradigm, he reflects a notable confidence through every bar and beat. Even though he might be inclined for the more ambient planes of a release like Ancient Aliens Relics or the acid Techno of State of Matter, all Umwelt’s music is noticeably born out of the same gene pool and it reflects a severe poise that confides everything in the music.
Days of Dissent is yet another such release and it means if you enjoy the opening track, or any of Umwelt’s previous releases, you’ll enjoy this too. The artistic voice is controlled and incredibly focussed on the album, while remaining varied and dynamic, like the artist’s discography concentrated into a single album. There isn’t a bad moment on this album, and the tedium that can often exist around an artist perpetuating the “if-it-aint-broke-don’t-fix-it” model is not to be found here. In fact Days of Dissent exposes that fleeting nature of music for what it actually is, a consumerist lie perpetuated by social media trends. Days of Dissent holds up a mirror to the present day music and asks: “Why is this music that has remained unchanged for almost 20 years more exciting than many if not most of the new releases today.”