Artwork by Tauba Auerbach
Since his debut in 2008, Niels Luinenburg, the Dutch producer known to most as Delta Funktionen, has established himself as a savvy producer of functional, austere techno. Some of his records, however, have lacked for something — something to make them shine amidst a sea of similarly competent, if not terribly exciting, techno. Going the extra mile for his his debut album, Traces sees him reaching well outside his comfort zone. I’ve long suspected that something must be there, given Luinenburg’s truly excellent DJing — flirting with all kinds of dance music in a vividly colored style — which seems not as restrained as his somewhat monochromatic releases. With Traces he has most certainly found that something, staying well within the confines of techno while looking back towards classic Warp albums for inspiration.
Traces takes Luinenburg’s penchant for strong techno skeletons and injects them with technicolor melodies and analog drum patterns. “Frozen Land” picks up a TR-606 and some Autechre-esque synths to open up the album with an electro-induced sense of harmony, while “Enter” dives straight into acid bass lines and tension-building arrangements. The sci-fi themes that have always been so important to techno permeate Traces, the album seeming like a solar system with nine highly individual worlds that add up to a greater whole. The sense of narrative throughout Traces is strong, with a push and pull between rougher techno (“Redemption”) and more pensive early 90s IDM (“Challenger”) a defining topic.
The best is saved for last in the one-two punch of “Onkalo” and “On A Distant Journey.” The former begins with spacey bleeps and is anchored by a timid bass line; the latter is the album’s longest track and is, as its name implies, quite the journey. Rumbling 707 percussion and otherworldly pads make the first minutes of the track some of the record’s most peak-time, but then it goes and breaks down through UK hardcore and acid-house tropes before looping back to where it began. It’s exciting stuff that successfully manages to surprise at each moment over its ten minutes and sees out one of the most successful techno albums of the year so far in fine style. In taking on his biggest project to date, Delta Funktionen has found his voice and made what is far and away his best one as well.