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Conforce - Escapism


Despite their influence coming of age the best part of 3 decades ago, it is still difficult to discuss house or techno without referring back to Chicago or Detroit, either in affirmation of or reaction against the stylistic templates mapped out all those years ago. Conforce emerges from a mid- European techno tradition that, while long having stamped its own identity on the genre, still feels it necessary to call in on the 312 and 313 area codes for inspiration. Escapism expresses something of the anxiety of influence endemic to contemporary techno while at the same time, as the title suggests, tentatively experimenting with ways of moving beyond.

The album format is embraced as a means to overarching conceptual coherence without being pushed too hard, each track following a different set of vectors on the same topology. The exploration of space is the unifying feature here; space as the measure of place, of freedom, and of absence. While the overall mood has the darkly minimal edge of Berlin, certain tracks have a distinctly housier kineticism, whether it’s a Chicagoan clatter (as on ‘Elude’s Fingers-esque tambourines, juddering toms and clipped acidic bass), or slick NY swing (the uptempo hihat slink of ‘Within’). Such rhythmic tics may have the effect of mooring the sound to a discernible geospatial identity but this is only so they might then be roundly destabilised by the refractive application of studio techniques inherited from dub.

This might have run the risk of grounding the album in yet another generic locality, yet this is more technique than stylistic touchpoint. Kodwo Eshun has written that, in dub, ‘technical effects – gate and reverb, echo and flange – are routes through a network of volumes, doorways and tunnels connecting spatial architectures’, through which the ear chases the sound, always lagging behind, but drawn ever inwards. So, on the title track ‘Escapism’, claps and woodblocks ricochet around an atonal melodic pattern, while on ‘Timelapse’, the most overt instance of this rationale, taut percussive shuffles propel a cloud of heavily delayed pads, perforated by spring reverb transients like tiny wormholes.

‘Echo turns the beat from a localized impact into an environment with you inside’, Eshun continues. This is true but it may also constitute an attempt to escape the specificity of place: ‘I dub from inner to outer space’ once claimed Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, idiosyncratically. Dub’s languorous pace and diverse sound palette contributes to a sense of the music as a constant expansion, studio trickery as an agent of transcendence. The same techniques in minimal techno, however, more commonly result in a feeling of constriction, with the higher tempo and refined soundset meaning shorter delay times, occurring more frequently, on a restricted set of frequencies – compare Perry’s psychedelia to the echoed burbles and whooshes of ‘Ominous’ and ‘Revolt DX’, which close in on the ear, rather than liberating it. The effect, however, is a heightened tension, nurturing claustrophilic energy.

Notably (and refreshingly) absent is any sense of the pan-global polyrhythms influencing current London-centric strains of house, where efforts to escape its oppressive spatial ancestry too often amount to little more than a momentary collision of floating signifiers. Occupying that void instigates a move towards deterritorialisation, an uncoupling of sonic space from geographical space. If this is the aim then it is cautiously executed – but wisely so. Escapism forms a retreat of sorts, dubbing back into inner space. With the benefits of collapsed distance and increased ease-of-access, we have been swift to repeatedly and cavalierly announce the soundtrack to the post-digital non-place; it is a more studious mind that seeks, as Escapism hesitantly does, to restructure and relocate techno’s architectonics from the inside.

Toby Bennett



Reader Comments (1)

Interesting review, although I wouldn't say it's terribly clear how much you liked the album?

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean Michel Genre

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