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Surgeon - Breaking the Frame

Dynamic Tension

Those who attend our parties on a regular basis will know what a remarkable DJ Surgeon is.  His core musical trait is tension - knowing when to drop a record and managing to retain a powerful kinetic energy that is then transmitted to the crowd with emphatic release. It’s like a tidal wave that sucks the water back before a tsunami, more in tune with the heritage of UK bass than the relentless hypnotic motion of techno. That aesthetic isn’t particularly new - if you go back to his very first records, that elastic, whipcrack sound has always been a trademark and his label “Dynamic Tension” gives you another clue. 

“Breaking the Frame” is Tony Child’s first album in over a decade and comes at a time when the sound of industrial, dark techno has become for want of a better adjective, fashionable. Helped by the advent of high quality sound systems and a certain club in Berlin, producers such as Lucy, Sandwell District and Perc Trax have turned an oft-maligned part of the genre into something more dancefloor-friendly. If there is a criticism though, it’s that it’s dark but without a reason. Dark, discordant energy is easy to summon in music, but like the baser elements of death metal, when it’s done without much in the way of emotion or more importantly, some sort of context, its appeal is cheapened. 

Child’s own musical vision has always drawn upon more esoteric and ambiguous ideas than virtually all other techno of this nature. The heritage of acts such as Coil and Throbbing Gristle played a large part in his musical vision up to now, but here he quotes more exotic figures such as Eliane Radigue and Alice Coltrane. Correspondingly, harmony and melody aren’t exactly in attendance here, with the sonorous raga influence of “Satchindananda”  heard in the crashing drones of “Presence”,  and opener “Dark matter” taking its cue from the “Trilogie de la Mort” series of the former. 

This is an album of dramatic cuts and thrusts, accompanied by quiet, disturbing contemplation. As a whole, “Breaking” works in an unusual way. The heart of it is the searing, unmitigated violence of “Radiance”, which acts as an immensely powerful whirlpool - sucking in all the energy from the songs before it and then spitting out the remainder afterwards. It’s a moment of absolute drama, but the negative is that you’re so sonically exhausted by it that the rest of the album is somewhat in the shade.

Of the other eight tracks, only three are dancefloor-orientated, but this piece of work isn’t aimed at such an obvious release of  physical energy. They break up the listening pattern, yet their impact and power remain undimmed. More importantly, that sense of tension that I talked about earlier has been refined.  That whipcrack snares are still there, but the bass and shuffling kicks amplify the wallowing cathedral of sound to remarkable levels without relying on more obvious techno blueprints. His ability to carve out dark slices of drama remain undimmed, wihth “Those who do not” being the superior of the three, rarely looking up from its intense journey through the dark recesses of your mind. It’s arguably the most traditional in terms of construction, but those shards of ice-cold hisses and agonising white noise sheets make it utterly compelling. Child’s production skills and mastery of dynamics are second to none here.

For all the sonic brilliance though, something about “Breaking” doesn’t push it into the realm of the great album. It’s an incredibly dense piece of work, compacting and expanding with great power, with Child soaking all the music up as if in a huge wet towel and then wringing it dry after each track. This sonic physicality is impressive, but despite their range of textures the other more experimental compositions don’t provide quite the required contrast in emotion. “We are All Already Here” shimmers malevolently without moving into more interesting territory, whilst album closer “Not - Two” fades into dark ambient territory disappointingly after a terrific sound collage opener. Child’s ability as a magus of the darker, more abstract realm of UK Bass and Techno is without question, yet the forays into the experimental side of matters require a little more refinement.

Toby Frith

buy direct on Surgeon’s website

Reader Comments (1)

I think this is a great album, but I also think Speedy J did this better years ago on "A Shocking Hobby".

July 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommentervmdTM

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