Thursday, 13 February 2014

Lagowski - Ashita (1997)

Several thousand years ago I found myself sharing a house with a sculpture student from Ipswich named Reuben Pinkney. This was my first time away from home so it all seemed quite strange, but happily it turned out that my housemate and I had similar tastes in music.

'Try this,' he said one evening, handing me a cassette tape of four tracks, no titles on the inlay card, just the name of the band which was Nagamatzu. 'They're from Ipswich. You'll like them.'

I did. They sounded a bit like Joy Division, but about forty or fifty times better than all those other bands who sounded a bit like Joy Division; Atmosphere era Joy Division without Ian Curtis singing one of those I'm referring to something spooky without telling you what it is songs; in fact they were what New Order should have sounded like, I decided, except instrumental. Fuck it - they were actually superior to any of the bands with which I felt qualified to draw lazy comparisons - driving bass, sharp rhythm programming, and the sort of panoramic cloud banks of synth that evoke spiritual revelations on warm summer evenings, but better than that and without lending itself quite so easily to my admittedly purple prose.

Years later I discovered that these tracks - which I still had on a tape somewhere - were actually from the recently reissued Shatter Days, and that the membership of Nagamatzu had included one Andrew Lagowski whose name I'd encountered on numerous occasions without my ever realising there was a link; and within about a week of learning all this, I happen upon a copy of Ashita in my local Half-Price Books. It's all connected, you see. Woooooooo!

To briefly swerve off in pursuit of yet another very loosely associated train of thought, many years ago, but not so many years ago as when I shared a house with a sculpture student from Ipswich named Reuben Pinkney, my friend Carl worked at a massive and fairly well known photography and design studio near the Post Office Tower in London. One afternoon I turned up to meet him from work as we were going to a gig, or to the pub, or to the Raymond Revue Bar or something or other. I went up a floor and into a studio space full of desks and light boxes.

'You see this lot,' Carl told me in sotto voice, a furtive glance to all the others working away at their computers. 'Every single one of them is a DJ.'

The information was not offered as something which might impress me. I looked around at all the heads close-shaven to circumnavigate the onset of male pattern baldness, the self-conscious hipster spectacles, the near identical clothes, and those zippy record bags left laying around stuffed with rare Bulgarian tech-stomp twelves picked up from Flabby's in Soho at lunchtime, records I probably hadn't heard of, but which they had.

I wondered how Carl could stand to work in the place, amongst so many people all trying far too hard, all labouring under the delusion that arranging a group of records produced by other people in a particular order is a profoundly creative act. It's not that the art of the DJ is entirely without skill or merit - and by DJ I refer to the phenomenon as it has emerged from rave culture as opposed to the whole cutting and scratching deal associated with rap and hip-hop - but things seem to have got out of hand, and media driven hyperbole has elevated the status of people who choose records to something far beyond that which they actually do. My guess is that this is because it can be sexy to rock a crowd with your two record players, to be seen to have it large, and to be recognised as someone who knows how to choose a jolly tune - if you'll pardon all the terminology - and much sexier than sitting in a studio scratching your arse and programming a drum machine like a saaad specky nerd who reads books and has never done it with a girl - or a boy depending upon personal preference. As with any sudden and popular shift in that which has caught the imagination of the general public, the past is either revised or ignored with Cromwellian zeal, and so thanks to sexy DJ culture, that which was once unpopular and even reviled is moved to centre stage with a new coat of paint, hence all the clueless fuckers who will swear blind that electronic music was invented by Aphex Twin or Daft Punk; and whatever that other stuff was, well it wasn't the same and it was saaad.; although this view apparently also makes me a hipster.

Due to my having records that you haven't heard of, but which I have heard of, the first track I came across by the apparently award-winning Burial inspired the thought that this sounds like Nagamatzu, but not as good, and oddly the same equation has worked with Autechre and Lagowski. It isn't that I feel I should necessarily be congratulated for having taste when everyone else was rolling up the sleeves of their jackets and listening to Climie Fisher - although it would be nice - but I sense an injustice in so much as it would be nice to see persons such as Andrew Lagowski and the rest getting some credit, or even wider recognition after all this time, and it seems a shame that people will happily miss out on some great and genuinely innovative music simply because it isn't wearing a backwards baseball cap and asking you to check out my jam, yeah?

Ashita is quite clearly tapped from the same inspirational well-spring that informed Nagamatzu, and as such still sounds about ten years ahead of the folks who haven't quite finished reinventing Lagowski's earlier records; and listening closely it serves as a lesson in how to do this sort of thing right, and how to keep it interesting. It's all electronic, roughly ambient or whatever you want to call it, but it feels organic in a quite fundamental sense, sounds and notation which seem to evolve and expand upon themes as though part of some subatomic process, the formation of cosmic strings or whatever. Nothing here sounds like something you will have heard before in quite the same way on another record, even down to snare and cymbal hits which don't ever quite repeat on themselves let alone on anyone else; and crucially everything is at the volume at which it needs to be, so some details remain half heard whilst others move slowly towards the foreground - might be worth noting just how many lesser producers can't mix and keep everything at the same flat level. All of this serves to invoke a space, pretentious as that will almost certainly sound, a great void defined by the musical elements cohered about its periphery, a subtle and pleasant differentiation of the more common result of just whacking the reverb up to 99.9 seconds and deciding fuck it - that'll do.

Ashita treads an impressively fine balance, achieving a sort of split second musical precision without exactly sounding composed, or trying too hard as I guess I mean. Rhythms build up from sparse throbs of deep bass, becoming hypnotic without ever quite sinking into simple repetition. As with the greatest of art, it's as much about what is left out as about what is used, and Andrew Lagowski is a true master in this respect; and as with Nagamatzu, the emotional impact is incredible and subtle, something falling between mournful and sublime without pulling any of the obvious tricks, the plinky plonky boo hoo piano notes that have probably just been reinvented for the umpteenth time by the latest whining incarnation of DJ Tosspot feat. Mercury Music Prize Fuckface.

Whilst it may well be true that I've heard of this record and you, dear reader, possibly haven't, it's not like I have all existing copies locked up in my basement, so the rest is up to you.

Go on, be a devil.

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