I’m often baffled by how electronic music – in this case techno – is so often approached from a mathematical standpoint. Techno’s usual BPM count hovers around the average 120 to 130 range, which for those outside the inclusive electronic music club is akin to rambling off the types of effect pedals used to create the sonic bombardment of a My Bloody Valentine track (all the effect pedals – all of them). Then again, perhaps not, and perhaps I’m only showing my hand, but the point is the number is rarely quantifiable without reference points to the unfamiliar and as such has little to do with how the song employing certain BPM meter might actually feel. For instance, Balam Acab’s post-witchstep hovers around the 60 BPM mark, but rarely feels overtly slow. Though to be fair, Balam Acab doesn’t make techno, a genre so often carried by the steady thump of 4/4.
The ramshackle point I’m trying to make in regard to Andy Stott and his most recent released work, We Stay Together, is that while the English producer creates six to seven minute tracks on the slower side of techno – hovering around the 80 BPM mark – he feels even slower. He feels slow in general, which in turn is somehow enough to create a stylistic fingerprint as part of a field of linearly defined dub techno artists. But it’s not just down to beats per minute. Stott’s kick drums feel heavy and squashed under a couple thousand atmospheres of pressure. Not heavy in a Vitalic the-world-is-imploding kind of way, but heavy in an oppressive bedrock-weight-on-your-shoulders kind of way, as if Stott builds his compositions in Ableton at 120 BPM and then just clicks the whole thing down to 80, pitch and all. That’s almost insultingly oversimplifying things, but, regardless, it’s heavy, man.
The weight denomination might sound over rot when repeated like a badge of extremity, but after upwards of five minutes of scratchy Gas-esque drones on intro “Submission” and the first minute or so of ambiance on “Posers,” the kick arrives as a sort of revelation. Even “Cracked,” probably the most colossal thing on here, feels eye-opening after a half-hour of skull rattling bass, its barbed hook completely flattened by the deafening 4/4 thud. The heft has the same sort of dusty analog feel as Philip Jeck’s severely pitched-down vinyl manipulations riding beneath the locked in grooves. The kind of heaviness that feels like it should hurt. The weight of course enhances the dirge pace, which creates an almost sexual atmosphere of half-lidded sweat-sheened physicality.
Of course, if you happen to wander into the realm of dub techno you’re immediately shoved into the same light as Deepchord and Basic Channel. There’s certainly a devotion to the former’s percussive expansion, but Stott manages depth without intricacies reverberating within vast negative space. We Stay Together is claustrophobic and muffled and industrial. The intricacies become solidly locked into place to align with the throbbing whole. There’s a bit of Gas’ strangled and ebbing melodies and the stolid textures of a behemoth droning machine riding atop the 4/4 kick often recall Loscil’s Submers record. But Stott has an obsession with production detail that gives him an in with post-dubstep. “Bad Wires” stomps around a repeatedly melting metallic groove while the snares dissolve into caffeinated static. “We Stay Together (Part One),” builds to similar affect with zigzagging ribbons of decaying synth stretched into a jagged groove.
I should mention We Stay Together is Andy Stott’s second EP of 2011 and it’s easily the heavier, more defined, and arguably better of the two. May’s Passed Me By relied on vocal samples and upper register synths making it sound downright breezy in comparison. Needless to say the UK producer has remained busy in the past six months and is steadily building himself into one of minimal’s most interesting and singular artists. The feel of We Stay Together is consistently nocturnal, if not foreboding, though it never descends into Demdike Stare blackness. There’s always the slight levity of leering minor chord dance hooks in place, but the floor crushed by Andy Stott’s tracks would be a writhing, subdued, and intimate kind of place.