Drumcell: Sleep Complex
CLR Records

After LA-born Moe Espinosa, who adopted the Drumcell moniker around the year 2000, hand-pressed and hand-wrapped his first vinyl record in an LA garage, he handed out copies of it at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, only to then hear it played on various stages the next day. That auspicious start inspired a modest number of singles and EPs before the release of his debut Drumcell album. Though Sleep Complex in many ways challenges techno conventions, it can be heard as Espinosa's homage to the form, specifically raw, early Detroit techno, and is also an exercise in self-restriction as Espinosa purposefully chose to limit himself to analogue modular synthesizers and digital tools for the music's production. His is a heavy sound, one grounded in a muscular bass-and-drum foundation yet presented with exceptional clarity rather than the muddiness that sometimes characterizes low-end music.

Don't be mislead by the brief ambient intro “Mind” as the album's true opener is its second cut “Disturbance.” Representative of Sleep Complex, the track catches one's ear with writhing acid-synth gestures that lend the material a suffocating, even strangulated feel. But more central to the Drumcell sound is the thudding bass drum which heaves and thrusts relentlessly while also refreshingly eschewing the standard 4/4 pattern for something less predictable. It's an approach he returns to elsewhere, such as in “Behind You” though in this case the tempo is faster, locomotive even, and the wiry sound design so trippy it suggests some vague connection to rave and trance. The punishing single-mindedness of the attack in “Rooted Resentment” also suggests that Drumcell would be a perfect addition to Ostgut Ton's roster, even if the label's been branching out in recent days beyond hard techno, whereas the longest cut, the ten-minute “Empty,” exudes a severe, minimalistic brutality that's reminiscent of early Plastikman and even Bola.

Espinosa grew up a fan of industrial music, and occasional evidence of that background surfaces in the album, if subtly. The pounding throb of “Forgotten Guilt” certainly suggests some connection, as does “Speak Silence” when a cryptic speaking voice appears amidst the track's harrowing art-techno design. Voice samples also appear within “Dispatch” though they're of the less nightmarish police transmissions-related kind. The album does dial down the heaviness during “Fragmenter,” a comparatively restrained exercise in bleepy techno, but for the most part Sleep Complex stays true to its industrial-techno concept. For those with an appetite for that style, the album offers a generous, eighty-minute serving capped by the eight-minute bonus track “Wonderback.”

August-September 2013