Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Demdike Stare - Wonderland (Album Review)

A sense of horror has been a crucial aspect of Demdike Stare since the projects inception back in 2009. The name itself explicitly connects the act to a distant English past, one wrought with superstition and a perceived presence of the uncanny. 'Demdike' alludes to a notorious witch trial, taking place under the rule of James 1 - the deeply superstitious author of 'Demonology' - a king who was profoundly fearful of witchcraft, Shakespeare famously writing Macbeth to appease his interest in the topic. The trial culminated with the nine year old Jennet Device condemning her entire family - including her grandmother Demdike - to execution for the practising of this crime.

Given the historical context, the duo's name certainly brings with it a claustrophobic, enveloping fear - the terror of being trapped within the unflinching gaze of a demonic entity. Musically a large chunk of the groups material seamlessly merges with the connotations of their name. A dense air of ghostly unease gathers atop sparing rhythms, while the collage-like artwork will often conjure up a folkloric infatuation with black magic.

Their interests have slightly altered on this latest release, 'Wonderland', as well as on their recent series of 12"s. The duo - comprising of Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker - maintain a sound which seems to exist in a state of monochrome, but here its surrounding mist recedes in favour of fevered and volatile rhythms. As the mist recedes, so does the acts connection to a number of their more weathered references, situating them more firmly with a certain lineage of musical history - specifically the last few decades of British rave music.  

Now, Demdike Stare have always had a strong connection with rave culture, but on 'Wonderland' we find them at their most directly dance focused. With a widespread maniacal grin, the duo barrel through a plethora of styles; techno, grime, hardcore, garage, industrial, jungle; a palpable menace being infused into each of these individual genres - a menace that's gleefully juxtaposed against the project's open playfulness. This menace maintains it's deranged verve throughout, thankfully never tilting over towards the morose or dour.

'Wonderland' is largely defined by it's jagged propulsion, yet during the latter third of the track 'Hardnoise', the beat gives way to unabashedly beautiful melodic tones; their rosy presence momentarily alarming due to the scraping, corrosive textures which characterised the album up to that point. Throughout the project rhythms typically build until inevitable implosion. Take the thrillingly shambling 'Airborne Latency', which forcibly scurries onward, the beat growing more caustic and impaired as it progresses. Clearly flummoxed, the rhythm eventually opts for the exit and withers away, while crackling ambience is left to swell up to the foreground.    

Previously the extensive use of library music within their sample heavy sound led to unavoidable hauntology interpretations, and although their recent output could feasibly be situated alongside Burial - an artist whose sound many describe as being the 'ghost of rave' - I don't really think the link holds much weight. Perhaps fellow Manchester artist Andy Stott would be a better comparison, notably due to the way both projects apply their singularly honed aesthetic to numerous dance styles, whilst doing so stretching and reconfiguring these forms.  

The switch towards the dancefloor in no way banishes the duo's previously mentioned supernatural qualities - malicious sonic spectres still regularly intrude upon the album, lacing these brittle rhythms with layers of vaporous ectoplasm. On the disconcerting 'Sourcer', what sounds like a heavily processed garage vocal takes the role of unholy incantation; whilst during the final moments of 'FullEdge (eMpty-40 Mix)', we're subjected to the retching of - what springs to mind as being - a malevolent spirit trapped inside an answering machine.

Rather than erasing all elements of the uncanny, Demdike Stare appear to have instead resituated them - proving that these components are not dependant upon extensive mood pieces, able to thrive similarly within a frantic rhythmic template. This ability to resurrect the supernatural, specifically within the urbane modern world, has always been one of Demdike Stares most enticing qualities. After all, the cliched idea of the supernatural - throughout literature, film etc. - is commonly/wrongly restricted to the rural, the rustic; whilst urban living is left deprived of the mystery that comes tied to this topic.

It should also be pointed out that the groups talents stretch further than merely creating music, now becoming increasing notorious for their own audacious DS label. This year alone we've seen them release Micachu's 'Taz and May Vids' - an EP which voraciously reshaped it's garage/2-step template - whilst Equiknoxx's 'Bird Sound Power' forged a mind bending collision between dancehall and juke. However, with their own release - 'Wonderland' - Demdike Stare have clearly conceived one of 2016's finest albums; a mangled tour of rave, from newly conceived perspectives, stretching towards the outer-limits of the hardcore-continuum.

Words by Eden Tizard

Twitter: @eden_tizard