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Marconi Union - Tokyo


If Techno started in Detroit and evolved in Berlin, then by logic following the global course it should mutate further in Tokyo. For many it seems, the Japanese capital is the 3rd in a triumvirate of “Techno cities”. Much has been speculated upon the psychogeographical nature of these habitats, and the hybridised technological utopia that Tokyo strives for in many ways seems to be the living proof of what Alvin Toffler and then Juan Atkins talked about all those years ago. Personally I disagree - Tokyo is a peculiar beast, at once ugly with its flat, never-ending suburbia that threatens to engulf you, yet enthralling in its sub-Blade Runner nocturnal neon and chattering noise. What it lacks though, which is essential for music of this nature to emerge, is decay. The Japanese as a whole, don’t allow decay to happen. Tokyo is too large to be pristine, but it is a place where virtually nothing old remains. Even the ancient buildings seem peculiarly modern in their design.

A good friend of mine once dryly noted that if you wanted your music to be successful in Japan, all you needed to do was to provide song titles with Japanese epithets - “Tokyo Dawn”or in this album’s case “Ginza District”. The Japanese are after all voracious occidentalists with regard to culture. By and large though, Westerners are similarly affected it seems though with this city, and it continues to be a rich subject for electronic musicians in particular to plunder. Marconi Union, who are a Manchester-based duo, take the subject of travel, and apply it to Tokyo as they apply a cinematic tinge to 7 compositions that are laced with various techno elements but retain a strong melodic character throughout.

In this respect, “Tokyo” retains a strong character. The city itself is intensely cinematic in some respects, especially when visiting for the first time, and tracks like the aforementioned “Ginza District” provide a warm companion to this experience, with subtle droplets of melody accentuating a warm bassline. Elsewhere, tracks such as “Hatsunori” and “Red Line AM” colour matters with a dubby aspect, with Sahko-esque bleeps and found sound samples clattering in the distance. It gives the impression of movement and atmosphere, but ultimately whilst production and composition was refined, I found little of substance beneath a polished exterior. Although lovers of cinematic soundtracks and the like will be pleased by this album, it lacks character and identity, not helped by the subject matter having been explored endlessly before.

Toby Frith

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