Iron Curtis & Ultrademon Shift 002
Once famously described by sci-fi author William Gibson as "Disneyland with the death penalty," Singapore isn't the first place that comes to mind when one thinks about cutting-edge electronic dance music. Yet in spite of its strict reputation, the Southeast Asian city-state seems to have developed a healthy taste for the messy antics of techno-and-house-fueled late-night partying. A lot of this is due to the efforts of outfits like Midnight Shift, the now three-year-running party that just last year kicked off a new label arm with The First Shift, a split EP that teamed Basic Soul Unit with relatively unknown Singaporean producer Eddie Niguel. Shift 002, its latest, pulls off a similar trick by lining up cuts from German house heavyweight Iron Curtis (a.k.a. Johannes Paluka) alongside tunes from seapunk originator/Coral Records label head Ultrademon (a.k.a. Albert Redwine). If it seems like a bizarre pairing, that's because it is.
On paper, there are quite a few differences between the two artists, and in practice, this mostly holds up. It's not a bad thing though, as the two producers' sounds complement each other in the context of this EP by providing balance through contrast. Iron Curtis starts his half of the release with the sheen and bounce of "Never Give Up," a driving house cut made complex by deep layers of ambient washes that subtly shift and pull up against each other. There's space here—enough of it to allow for a Mr. Fingers-style bassline, blips of microsample color, and a light rhythm that just keeps on going. The track clocks in at almost eight minutes, but it never lags; instead, the momentum is retained through a constant tweaking that keeps the energy up without resorting to cheap tricks. His second track is a variation on the first, dubbed "Never Give Up (The Chant)." It's less of an overt club cut, drawing more from the blunted, Detroit-style side of his output—like "Interlude in the Park" off last year's Thoughts On EP. Working in that vein, it's all ghostly atmospherics, with the original song's familiar layers pushed beneath a newly provided surface of echoed percussion and worming acid. Almost attaining a meditative state, it's the most far-out piece on the EP and just might be the highlight because of it.
However, that's not to discount the efforts of Ultrademon, who here abandons the aquatic and Tumbler-centric confines of his seapunk associations to turn in two tracks of straightforward dance music. His side of the EP begins with "Bend," an exercise in sound design that loops a coiling battery of Tangerine Dream synthesizers over a prehistoric drum machine that hisses and plops like something off a Suicide record. However, it never strays from this idea, preferring to stick with a simple structure that doesn't take it much farther than a well-executed sketch. Better is "Goonchie Blunch," a short meditation on brutalist techno that grips its pneumatic rhythm with rippling undulations of distorted bass. It's both more developed and more realized, though it doesn't quite reach the complexity of the a-side. That's okay though, as all four tracks combined create a strong sophomore release for a new label that's just begun to find its niche.
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