Bolder: Hostile Environment
Editions Mego

Donato Dozzy & Nuel: The Aquaplano Sessions
Spectrum Spools

Hostile Environment, the debut album from Bolder duo Martin Maischein (who at one time recorded under the Heinrich At Hart name) and Peter Votava (aka Pure and formerly one-half of Ilsa Gold), invites being christened ‘lugubrious techno,' no matter how contradictory such a label might seem. Even affixing the word techno to Bolder's sound is a stretch, given how much the material distances itself from anything remotely associated with the word and all the connotations it possesses. Bolder's material is, however, most definitely lugubrious, though here too the word might not do justice to precisely how sickly the album's tunes are. Hostile Environment often plays as if some crippling disease has infiltrated its system and slowly spread into its lungs, so deeply that the host seems on the verge of collapse if not complete shutdown.

In fact, the lugubrious undertow is so strong in a representative piece such as “Deep Cuts,” it almost wholly negates whatever forward momentum the music might otherwise have—which only adds to the perplexity, given how fundamental forward thrust is to the techno form. Issued on the Austria-based Editions Mego imprint and drawing upon traditions associated with dub, industrial, ambient soundscaping, and techno, the forty-one-minute disc's experimental material is infused with foreboding and paranoia. But while it's not inaccurate, such a description risks painting too bleak a portrait of Bolder's music, as the six tracks offer more than their fair share of listening pleasure even if it's of a distinctively perverse kind.

To offer a taste of the album's sound, “Sinking Cities” underpins dystopic ambient scene-painting with a lurching techno pulse consistent with the material's end-of-the-world character. “Extraterrestrial Deactivity” opens in dronescape mode before mutating into a cryptic, slow-motion techno exploration, while the beatless “Residuality” embodies the Mego aesthetic most explicitly of the six settings in its uncompromising plunge into nightmarish noisescaping. The duo aren't without a sense of humour, however, as shown by the track title “Morbid Funk Ride,” the tune itself an experimental techno-funk workout awash in glitchy textures, drum machine beats, and a squirrely synth melody that suggests a creature pleading for mercy.

Fans of Donato Scaramuzzi's Donato Dozzy project might at first be disappointed to learn that The Aquaplano Sessions isn't a collection of new material. Instead, this latest addition to a discography that includes 2012's well-received Prologue release Voices From The Lake (credited to Voices From The Lake featuring Donato Dozzy & Neel) and 2013's Spectrum Spools outing Donato Dozzy Plays Bee Mask collects all of the twelve-inch material Scaramuzzi and Nuel (Manuel Fogliata) released on the Aquaplano label between 2007 and 2009. But if anything the release should be cause for celebration, given that the original vinyl releases have long since sold out and could only be acquired on the internet for exorbitant amounts.

Birthed at Nautical One Studio in San Felice Cireco, Italy, the eight tracks, simply titled “Aqua 1,” “Aqua 2,” and so on, traffic in the kind of deep, atmospheric techno documented on Voices From The Lake. As one listens to The Aquaplano Sessions, it's hard not to be reminded of Drexciya at times, though the recording is less the sound of Scaramuzzi and Fogliata carbon-copying the work of precursors than drawing inspiration from them. Further to that, the material doesn't hew to a single path but instead explores many: some cuts find the duo operating within a quasi-industrial zone, whereas others see them digging into pummeling tribal-techno. The most extreme departure is “Aqua 5,” where stormy field recordings and an overall emphasis on beatless soundscaping give the setting an ambient meditation identity that's leagues removed from anything techno-related.

Tracks like “Aqua 1,” “Aqua 4,” and “Aqua 7” roll out dizzying cross-currents of chattering drum machine patterns and writhing bass pulses, with much of it smothered in thick synthetic washes and haunted atmospherics. In such cases, Scaramuzzi and Fogliata show themselves to be sound designers above all else, producers sensitive to nuance and subtlety in their choice of the elements that make up a given piece and the manner by which they're arranged. That The Aquaplano Sessions is a concise set at forty-six minutes merely adds to its appeal; there's nothing objectionable about a release bereft of bloat, and the fact that its trippy techno functions as well in both club and home listening contexts argues on its behalf, too.

March 2014