Friday, December 14, 2007

NEIL LANDSTRUMM, Restaurant of the Assassins
director's cut, eMusic, 2007

by Simon Reynolds

An odd thing happened to electronic dance music this decade: it stopped moving. Once so fixated on the Future, the culture became mesmerized by its own past. The Nineties, one long blur of relentless innovation, had piled up such an accumulation of brilliant ideas that it became tempting for producers to go back rather than keep pushing forward. At its laziest, that has meant mere recycling. But it can also entail the creative reinvestigation of styles passed over too quickly during those hectic, head-long Nineties. This is what veteran Scottish deejay/producer Neil Landstrumm is up to on Restaurant of the Assassins: revisiting early UK rave and reactivating its dormant potentials. It’s as if all that mental music churned out on white labels had been given a chance to mature, but without losing its energy or insanity. The result is a bewitching blend of brutalism and sophistication.

At the album’s core is the North East sound known as bleep: outfits like LFO and Unique 3 who created a uniquely British mutation of house that owed as much to electro's pocket-calculator melodies and dub reggae's floorquaking sub-bass as it did to Chicago. The title of “Big In Chapeltown” is a cute nod to the Caribbean district of Leeds with its sound systems and shebeens, while “Yorkshire Steel Cybernetics” has the characteristic Warp-circa-1990 blend of ominous stalking bass and skippy drum machine beats whose syncopation looks ahead to jungle rather than back to house. Restaurant isn’t one long bleep homage, though. Landstrumm plucks ideas from all across the 20 year span of UK rave, acid house to dubstep. Proto-jungle legends the Ragga Twins drop patois chat on “Reverse Rebel,” while “Assassin Master” recalls the dark, febrile strain of 2step garage purveyed by Groove Chronicles. Sometimes Landstrumm’s sound gets slightly congested with writhing detail, suggesting there’s a downside to today’s much-advanced technology (it encourages producers to tweak and twiddle, crowding the mix with clutter and clatter). But Restaurant gets emptier and more potent as it proceeds. “Lung Dub” sounds like the drum program was finished and then partially dismantled, its beats so spaced out they’re like blows coming out of nowhere. “The Underground King” is similarly stark, just bass-boom and percussion-simmer, until the jittery bustle of a section from The House Crew’s rave classic “Euphoria” takes over the song like a demonic spirit possessing a body.

With sample-ghosts like this flitting in and out the music, Restaurant of Assassins offers a form of time travel. Except it’s less a case of going back to some long-lost golden age of rave and more about bring the past into the present. What's really disorienting, though, is the fact that this music still sounds like the future.

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