UK industrializers of witchery
By Conor Walker, 5:15PM, Wed. Jul. 9, 2014
Continuing a survey of electronic and experimental sound design that occupies the space between compositional reclusiveness and music for the dance floor, this third installment of All Notes Off crosses the pond once again. This time zeroing in on Manchester’s Modern Love imprint to dissect Demdike Stare’s ongoing Testpressing series.
Demdike Stare hail from the gloomy, mist-n-piss flogged bogs of Lancaster, but they reside in Manchester. The city seeps into the duo’s sound, both via its working class, ‘fuck our day jobs let’s dance’ brand of turbulent techno (progressively prevalent in Northern England), and also through a foregone, haunted realm, which draws from witchery in dilapidated mills and sorcerous alchemy. The name is a reference to Demdike, the leader of the Pendle Witches.
The duo have amalgamated practically every style of electronic music and filmic sound design into a hair-raising mosaic of cultish intrigue. Their separate talents divvy up and hone into a labor of process steeped in atmosphere and tension, like a dormant potion coming to life. Sean Canty is what Genisis P-Orridge refers to as a “splinterer,” a term used to denote the intersections and persuasions of sampling paired with magic.
Miles Whittaker, on the other hand, acts as the unit’s architect. He conjures Canty’s fragments of soundtrack scores, field recordings, and found sounds, often constructing eerie slivers into a mise-en-scène akin to the closing of The Wicker Man.
Although Demdike’s sound kilters with and without genres in tow, the Testpressings take their omnidirectional approach to new plateaus. The series, designed as a platform for experimentation, reels out tracks that wouldn’t find their way onto their LPs. As cinephiles, they eventually intend to work on scores; perhaps the series is setup to work out the kinks and to summon such a transition amidst fields of noise and whatever else the duo feels like hashing out.
The results are harsh. Some of the tracks are a bit rough around the edges – think unkept English hedges under a Svengali moon. Yet like any litter of hounds learning new tricks, the improvisational nature often lends to awe and splendor. As with a lot of envelope-pushing electronic music, the Testpressing series unravels as ongoing 12-inches.
#001 begins with “Collision,” a scraping number with rusting metals in painful motion alongside bellowing jungle frequencies. The flip opens with what seems to be a dehydrated lawnmower, until drops of soiled petrol spill into Heart of Darkness rhythms. “Grows Without Bounds” is a symphony of insect zappers.
If Demdike Stare is too cold and stormy for Third Coast summers, this arrives as the series’ Texas ode. On the b-side spins “Primitive Equations,” where the insect language metamorphoses into distinct human dialects. Even the title suggests so. A true techno kick furthers the track’s crawl to urbanization. Austin take note!
#003 is the most straight forward and thus the series’ most out of place piece. “Eulogy” has a real Unit Mobius vibe, as it scuttles along a Detroitian aqua-bahn wake, whereas the flip’s “Dyslogy” returns to insect song and rain forest textures as damp as crocodile urine. Nevertheless, the drum programming beats dry as sockets.
Both #004 tracks, “Fail” and “Null Results,” are excruciating. If you’re making a mixtape with an evil dentistry theme, throw either number on for a drill into a cavity feel.
The latest offering is a puzzler. #005’s opener, “Procrastination,” offers a post-UK-bass thumper with militant pistons to boot. Whereas “Past Majesty” is Demdike’s punk track, the distortion is obviously the product of a couple of techno heads. The track at least wraps up beneath stunning sheets of noise. #005 may be my least favorite test in the series, but perhaps it’s a grower not a shower.
As a whole, the series path is impeccable. Think Werner Herzog’s Fitzcaraldo, constructing an opera house in the Amazon, albeit with python vines rewiring the entire venture. If nothing else, the Testpressings solidify Demdike Stare as industrializers of witchery.