Riding the line between nostalgia and innovation must be an incredibly difficult task for today's electronic dance music producer. The present is a unique situation in which the forward-looking but esoteric sounds of post-dubstep/electro Europe are counterbalanced by the intense nostalgia of chillwave, nu-disco, and the classic house revival. Maybe it's due to this polarity that tracks with balance tend to stand out. One such release is Totem, the latest three-track single from French producer Cédric Steffens (a.k.a. Canblaster) on France's innovative Marble imprint.
This comes as no surprise, as Canblaster's musical background is diverse (as evidenced by his 50 tracks in 67 minutes XLR8R podcast), and he's been able to draw from his interests to create an eclectic and growing catalog. For Totem, Canblaster fuses his club-oriented futuristic bass aesthetic with the similarly forward-leaning, though now retro, sound of Underground Resistance's Galaxy 2 Galaxy project. In the process, something is created that sounds futuristic while bringing to mind moments of the past. And it's particularly pronounced on closely related stand-out tracks "Air Totem" and "Stone Totem," which both draw liberally from the sound palette developed by Galaxy 2 Galaxy on classics like "Hi-Tech Jazz" and "Timeline." It's a tricky maneuver when the source material is so revered, but the finesse is in Canblaster's ability to synthesize the general mood and tonal character without falling into blatant imitation or hero worship.
That same concept is used on b-side "Delphes (Feat. Sam Tiba)," which ties a similarly jazzy techno vibe to an almost-broken UK funky rhythm. The only negative point comes in what sounds like a mastering decision: the singles are all harshly compressed to the point that a lot of the dynamic range is lost to gain an almost electro-like flatness. It's a shame because this sort of jazzy techno gains so much when it's given room to breath. That being said, Totem isn't that much worse for it, and it stands as a club-friendly exercise in blending past and future to create something new for the present.