WHO YOU GONNA CALL…?
(originally published in Trisickle, 2011, October issue)
Let’s make no bones about it, Voltergeist’s debut album Burnt and Buried is a triumph for Scottish dance music. Glaswegian maestro Shaun Dowse (a.k.a – Emotiquon) has been producing dub-step and techno albums up and down the country for close to a decade. Now in late 2011 we get to finally behold his own labour of love and it was worth the wait.
Voltergeist fall into that much abhorred musical category of Intelligent Dance Music (or “Brain-Dance” to quote Aphex Twin’s unofficial moniker), but the main difference between this outfit and its often redundant contemporaries, is that Burnt and Buried does display some undeniable moments of genuine intelligence.
Introductory track “Boogu Yagga” rises and swells with ghostly groans and the distant, hypnotic pulse of a compressed kick drum almost betrays the moody pathos to be found later on in the album. Voltergeist’s range of influence in evident, there’s even elements of Detroit techno thrown in for good measure. But it never sounds uneven or thrown together, there’s real mastery at work here. It’s only after luring the listener in with “Boogu Yagga”s twinkly digital snyth and punchy bass popping that Voltergeist reveal their true colours. Burnt and Buried slowly blossoms into a work of elegant contrast.
“Pork Chops” shows a much more antisocial facet of Dowse’s personality. Its startling snare claps and off-beat time signature couldn’t be more of a departure to its predecessor and owes much more to the shifting aesthetics of electro-pioneers Autechtre than to ambient oldies Leftfield. Title track “Burnt and Buried” continues this new experimental complexion, plumbing the bleak, algorithmic depths of other electroacoustic genres. We just about verge on melodrama too with the unexpected orchestral inclusion of sweeping violins that carry the listener far off into the firmament. It’s ambitious stuff. Before you know it images soon begin to conjure in the mind’s eye. Dowse clearly seeks to have his music resonate on the similar level to a William Gibson or George Orwell novel.
So Voltergeist offer us two sides of the coin – One side portraying a technologically dominated, dystopian society, and the flip - of one lost in the mindless, drug saturation of dance culture. In doing so, Voltergeist present the listener with a unique paradox, one communicated through the medium of music, one that takes us from deep navel gazing to sparkling clarity - from eerie scepticism to tribal joviality. Amidst robotic croons of “Science has failed us, science betrayed me!” Burnt and Buried ends on the same cautionary note it carries for most of the album. This paradigm is at the very heart of Voltergeist’s life-force.
Other highlights include centrepiece “Inna Self Made Net” - an obscure portmanteau which hits us like some kind of introspective nightmare where the listener is transported to the shore of an Ibiza coastline, contemplating the pros and cons of walking out into the middle of the ocean. It’s five tracks later we see Voltergeist’s strange blend come together though. In “John Canoe”, the mystery protagonist’s story is brought to light through haunting voiceovers layered over some significantly more accessible beats.
Dowse’s roots lie in Deep House but his approach lies firmly in the anarcho-punk DIY attitude when it comes to writing and self-promotion. Voltergeist’s album was entirely written and produced on a MacBook Pro and Dowse exercises his own resourcefulness to fulfil the Voltergeist vision – saucepans were even used as a percussive device. It seems Intelligent Dance Music just found its first real justifiable member…