Dementio 13 – Crash St (electronic post-rock)
CutMat Recordings 2012, DD album, 44m 50s
Our statements have meanings only inasmuch as they indicate distinctions or differences. Words, and other meaningful gestures, draw lines around pieces of our conceptual universe, and say ‘x means y because it doesn’t mean z’. A piece of music that sounds very similar to another, has a very similar meaning; in the context of a unified style, when lots of pieces of music sound the same, they really don’t mean anything much. They are generic. But there’s a danger of flinging the baby out with the bathwater if we reject every piece of idiomatic art on that basis: generic conventions can be manipulated to profoundly meaningful effect as well. It behoves listeners to be alert to difference, and those without an understanding of a particular style may well entirely miss the meaningful elements of a piece. There is a region, between the entirely generic, and the entirely non-generic (where no appeal is made to any established creative language) where meaning can exist, and reward the audience of an artwork with the complexity and particularity that will resonate with their experience and feed their soul. All of this rambling was triggered by my observation that Dementio 13’s work on Crash St is not radically unconventional in his use of timbre, melody or rhythm, but that it’s in the way he combines these elements that he achieves the kind of specific distinctiveness that makes me sit up and pay attention. It’s a tricky canyon to negotiate, the narrow crack between the recognisable and the dull, but it’s the only way to reach that Shangri-La where the creatively uncompromised co-habits with the accessible and ear-pleasing.
To pick a piece of this album at random, I happen to be listening to ‘Monkeytron’ as I write this, a fairly simple, moderately kinetic drum and synth groove, supporting a mournful melody performed by a voice that sounds like a very trebly electric piano, or possibly some kind of plucked stringed instrument. Whether the part is programmed or played into the sequencer is irrelevant: the important thing is that it sounds like a human being played it. Grace note slurs make it sound organic, and it has the kinds of repetition and phrase development that usually happen when someone is improvising. It seems like a good place to start in summarising this recording, because that, for me, is the crux of it: electronic, programmed machine music, bursting at the seams with humanity and soul, imprinted with the traces of its creator. Timbre is necessarily a major field of play for the electronic musician, as it is for the percussionist, because without a subtle and creative approach to it the music will sound samey and lifeless: it’s a given for acoustic and electric instruments, whose sounding mechanisms are inherently impure and variable, but when you listen to Crash St you can be sure that every textural variation, every seemingly random wobble and glitch, is the result of Dementio 13’s detailed and careful craftsmanship. The melodies here are straightforwardly tonal affairs, simple without being obvious, and the beats are mostly breakbeats, very funky and kinetic, but placed in the mix to support rather than dominate the whole. ‘Flume’ and ‘Playing The Game’ have no beat at all, and a couple of other tracks feature other sorts of beats, but the way the drums are handled is largely an object lesson in the manipulation of conventions I referred to above: there is certainly nothing monotonous or repetitive about this highly varied set of compositions.
‘Wowflutter’ has a flickering break-beat and a squelching synth sequence fed through a filter sweep, but it doesn’t get to the bass: it feels like the intro to a huge floorfiller, especially with its ominous, astringent high harmonies, and it’s emblematic for me of the refusal of cliché that characterises this record. Much or most of the music has a dark tone, without being either miserable or heavy, and it is propelled with a determined kinesis that gives it a powerful, unsmiling punch comparable to metal (although its timbres rarely resort to distortion and never to noise): it’s music that brooks no neutrality, demanding that you feel it or turn it off, although it never bludgeons the listener like heavy rock or industrial styles. It’s just that even the most consonant harmony is given a sense of tension, and although its structures are mostly pretty straightforward, they regularly thwart expectations. It is ear-pleasing, it is accessible, but it is also challenging and demanding.
I listen to a lot of entirely electronic music, but most of it is either of a relatively superficial, energetic nature, or it deliberately exploits the coldness and impersonality of synthetic sound. Dementio 13 has mastered the art of creating human music, organic music that breathes, while capitalising on the power and impact of the machine. It’s not dance music, though it utilises a lot of dance music vocabulary, and it isn’t rock, although it likewise employs its language. It’s just what it is: music that challenges, stimulates and entertains, and while it’s like a lot of other things, there’s nothing else that’s quite like it.