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John Heckle - The Second Son


At the heart of this album is good songwriting, which can often be a rare thing in techno. It’s all very well honing your production techniques for years and messing about with loops and ambient noise, but sometimes the ability to compose solid melodies can transcend that of manipulating machines and software. 

Heckle’s debut album for Mathematics, as one might expect on Jamal Moss’s label, is the sort of raw, unvarnished, crackling Chicago-tainted jam fest that you might expect, and in this respect it delivers and then some. Beyond and beneath the clattering hi-hats and kickdrums though lies some proper tunes - one that will stay around for a long time and further boost the growing profile of this young producer. The heavy influence of Virgo and Larry Heard is undoubted, but thankfully unlike much of the current vogue for rehashing old Chicago or should I say copying it, Heckle’s approach stays on the right side of the dusty, analogue spirit that we have come to expect from the Windy City. Like one might expect from Mathematics too, the red-lining noise is never far away and on a handful of occasions it does almost make you reach for the volume button if you prefer your techno serene and given a coating of sterility. 

After a rather subdued start with some ambience, “The Voyager” explodes into life with searing hi-hats and a scorching melody that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Prelude release circa 1984. It’s an intriguing hybrid of house, techno and disco that has a potent dynamism to it - helped by a snaking riff and clattering rhythms. Similarly, “Lunik” wheezes and exhales with heavy sustain and menacing synths to start with, before escalating and mutating into a melody that demonstrates his undoubted compositional skills. This is where he’s at his best, producing brooding hymns that sparkle with the glitter of a roughly hewn diamond.

“Atomic Response” is where Heckle condenses all his energy, eschewing melody for tightly coiled snares and gristly hiss, underlaying it with some raw 303 tones, likewise for “Red Defender”. Against the quality of the aformentioned tracks, these don’t quite have the same appeal and the same can be said for closer “Second Son”, which never really manages to catch fire after some drum machine pyrotechnics. However, “Inside Me” more than compensates for this, echoing Derrick May’s “Nude Photo” for sinewy, melancholy techno at its best. It’s here that if anyone who is sceptical of the “raw” sound of this kind of techno should be won over - harking back to a time when the genre did sound like the backdrop to a dystopian future and not some academic exercise in sound. 

One could argue that such blatant referencing to the past shouldn’t garner such healthy plaudits, but the quality of Heckle’s songwriting craft negates such thoughts.  Although this isn’t by any means a great album with just 3 of the 10 tracks being very good, it does showcase some hefty potential and is a welcome addition to the small, growing band of producers eschewing software for more rigorous, exciting ways of making techno.

Toby Frith

Buy The Second Son at Juno


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