REVIEWS: Donor / Vakula / Puffer

Some reviews from February for DJBroadcast International.

Donor – Against All 

After years of releasing tracks and EPs on labels like Stroboscopic Artefacts and Truss Trax, Donor finally presents his debut LP. On Against All, Donor continues to create a space for travelling within your mind, as oppose to moving your body on the dancefloor. But being of a dystopian nature, this travel isn’t cheerful for one second.

Those who are into dark, slow and experimental techno have probably already heard about Donor. Apart from his fundamental contribution to Stroboscopic Artefacts, Greg Schappert is also known for his ongoing transatlantic collaborations with Truss as well as a series of solo releases on Semanthica Records, Prosthetic Pressings and his own netlabel Miniscule.

Even though he’s lived in cities like Barcelona, Madrid or Tokyo, his musical inspiration originates from the sounds of Birmingham, Berlin and Detroit. On his debut long-player, Donor adds the sounds of New York City to the list, a city often portrayed as the central point of attacks or World destruction in dystopian sci-fi blockbusters. Ironically, apart of John Carpenter, he’s not so much into science fiction. He prefers to create it himself with his abstract, minimalistic techno.

On Against All, Donor continues to rank himself among the producers who do not take an optimistic approach towards the future. But unlike some of his peers (colleagues from Stroboscopic Artefacts and Perc Trax), he doesn’t mirror or criticise the pre-apocalyptic present, but outlines the atmosphere of the dystopian future using sounds of the present – primarily field recordings. Alongside these, he also uses the Roland TR-909 and his iPad.

Nevertheless, Donor operates with his sound arsenal in an unorthodox way: instead of leaving his field recordings to be heard as they are, he transforms them into alien signal transmissions (‘Hands On’, ‘In Your Place’) or chops them into staccato sound patterns (‘Station A14’, ‘Fault Is Found’). When using synths, he preferes to go for their rhythmical arpeggio effects or eerie atonal layers than for tones or melodies. In ‘Menace is Mine’, he creates brilliant but unsettling sounds, similar to that of a mechanical creature breathing heavily while destroying anything human that crosses its path.

Against All is permeated with hopeless, anxious feelings and a dreary atmosphere of wandering around desolate, ravaged cities or landscapes. Acording to Donor himself, ‘Calling’ is supposed to symbolise frustration, ‘Own Exile’ “the aftermath or total destruction” and ‘Menace’, a “desperate attempt to communicate with the unknown”. Although not every single track has a sophisticated conceptual idea behind it, each evokes a vivid, dark and doomy atmosphere. All except for the last track ‘In Your Place’, which is reminiscent of Lucy’s ‘Falling’ from last year’s LP, which soothes the listener after the series of uncompromising apocalyptic vision, giving you hope as well as serving as a requiem, praying for the salvation of all dead souls.

SCNTST – Puffer

Bryan Müller is a Munich-based producer who keeps astonishing music fans as well as critics with his outstanding talent of blending various styles in an innovative and bracing, genuine way. On his second LP, Müller has matured sonically and found himself in a more serene position without losing playfulness or desire.

Born in ‘93, Müller has been musically active since a young age, with an interest nurtured by his father who let him play drums in his band at the age of only ten. Müller still derives inspiration from being involved in the skateboarding scene – not only through his love for hip-hop, but also through the making of cut and skate videos. Up until the present day he still works with sounds recorded with a video camera: “It’s always interesting to record different ‘noises’ and edit them until you have a groove,“ he explains.

This experimental approach is pronounced in SCNTST’s music. The sounds and beats aren’t designed to be crystal clear and computer-like perfect; Müller prefers to play around with sounds and genres he simply likes. His debut Self Therapy bounces from electronica and broken beats to techno and hip-hop. His track ‚Jah Wut Dub‘ for the Miami Noize 5 compilation naturally switches from reggae and dub to techno and back again. Puffer, Müller’s second album is more complex and yet calmer. The tracks are often ambient, coated in hazy layers of sounds with only a few moments of techno (‚UV Houzz‘, ‚Generated‘, ‚Mondquelle‘).

After the slow starter ‚Render For peace‘, Müller unfolds his characteristic filtered, rich synth sounds along deep dub-techno beats in ‚Life of Ares‘, which turns out to be one of the strongest tracks of the album. Similarly in ‚Sers‘, he combines mellow techno with dreamy synthesisers that resemble sunlight reflecting off the water. ‚Zuge‘ (i.e. trains) is based on iridescent foggy synth pads and echoed vocals that pour with fluctuating intensity. More chilled out electronica or broken beats can be heard on the glittery ‚Kristall Edition‘ and ‚H8 Drop‘, the closing and possibly, most outstanding track on the record.

On Puffer, Müller proves to be very patient and mature for a 21 year old. He doesn’t rush with frenetic beats and surfeit of sounds, but slowly builds up atmospheric, sometimes almost cinematic pieces (‚Gletscherspalte‘, ‚Ice‘, ‚Zuge‘, ‚Render For Peace‘, ‚Hendy‘) while not taking things too seriously, with a playfulness sticking out here and there. Take ‚Ice‘ for example, its semi-improvisational, light-hearted approach is combined with alien-like, experimental sounds. Moreover, the album starts by greeting listeners with a “Yo“; a solitary reference to SCNTST’s beloved hip-hop.

It’s not for sure from how many tracks Müller had to choose from for Puffer (for his debut, it was around 200). The result definitely holds together better, both sound- and atmosphere-wise and shows us that SCNTST isn’t only able to master dance floor bangers, but also mellow and introverted pieces for a concentrated listening.Puffer is indeed one of the albums that deserves to be listened to while doing nothing else apart of letting your mind being carried away.

Vakula – A Voyage to Arcturus

With his new cinematic album, Vakula extends his rich prolific discography. On A Voyage To Arcturus, an album created according to a book published in the 20s, Vakula takes us on a fantastic journey through music genres, philosophical systems and alien atmospheres.

Mikhaylo Vityk (Vakula / Vedomir / V) is a Ukrainian wonder with a unique style of both DJing and musical production. Vityk is known for being a driving force of modern house music and also for his two record labels: Bandura, where Vityk focuses on combining Detroit sound and deep, space out house, and Leleka, where he releases his experiments with melodies, ethnic elements and music from the mid 60s, 70s and beginning of 80s. Apart of that, Vityk is also inspired by sci-fi and fantasy as well as the mythology of the land from where he comes. Even the moniker Vakula comes from Vityk’s desire “to create a national hero Vakula, like in old Ukrainian fairy tales.”

Although Vityk’s inspiration by myths and science fiction has been quite obvious within his career, he brings it to a whole new level on his new LP. A Voyage To Arcturus is the imagined soundtrack to the book of the same title. Written by novelist David Lindsay it combines sci-fi, exploration of human nature and mind, philosophy, belief in God and existence. In the story, a man called Maskull leaves his life on Earth and sets out an interstellar journey to Tormance, an imaginary planet orbiting a double star system called Arcturus. During his stay on the planet, he explores many alien worlds which represent various philosophical systems.

Vakula joins the exploration of vastness, confusion and imagination of the human mind and follows Maskull’s fantastic quest through metaphorical landscapes. Many tracks are named after the chapters in the novel. In the opening track ‘The Seance’, Vakula used ethereal ambient background and quoted a part of the first chapter, where the host of the séance explained to his audience the procedure of materialisation. Those are the only words on the whole album. Primarily built around percussion and synthesisers, there are also funky guitar jams, flutes and choirs – everything recorded live.

In the chapter ‘The Wombflash Forrest’, Lindsay described a drumbeat in the forest: “The drum beats had this peculiarity – though odd and mystical, there was nothing awe-inspiring in them, but on the contrary they reminded him of some place and some life with which he was perfectly familiar.“ That’s how Vakula’s music on the whole album appears; mystical, but at the same time familiar, because Vakula travels through both time and space with his music. Nevertheless, those who are fans of Vakula’s deep house music may not be satisfied, since only ‘New Sensations’ evolves into a graceful house beat. Otherwise, A Voyage To Arcturus sounds like an old technicolour journey through all the mystical, pleasant and odd places on the earth, from a bar in Miami to an elevator in the 30s; from a Mexican street to African ritual music with a Krautrock concert and an 80s hotel lounge inbetween.

But not all the tracks on A Voyage To Arcturus are full of funky beats and naive melodies. In ‘Surtur’s Sounds’, Vakula embodies the dramatic drum beats that spread around the Wombflash Forrest in the book. In ‘Matter Play’, Vakula masterly depicted playing the lake as an instrument, which “was full of lively motion”, as it’s described in the novel. The track goes on with gurgling synth sounds ranging from wobbly and mystical depths to sneaky noises with a very peculiar atmosphere similar to experiments in music concréte from the 50s. A Voyage To Arcturus is a fascinating audio adaptation of an even more fascinating novel and has proved that Vakula is capable of creating complex, yet diverse musical pieces beyond genres and trends.

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