When I reviewed Elektro Guzzi’s debut 12″ last March, I commented that Viennese techno power trio Elektro Guzzi came off a bit like an analog-only traditionalist rant taken to “ultra-extremes.” Bernhard Hammer, Jakob Schneidewind, and Bernhard Breuer — guitarist, bassist, and drummer, respectively — go about as far as anyone has yet in distancing themselves from machine encroachment in dance music production. It’s easy to read their press sheet and pigeonhole them as the latest mnml reactionary fad, the techno equivalent of vegans who refuse to eat honey. But as I’ve thought more about Elektro Guzzi’s project and had a chance to soak in their debut album, I’ve started thinking that’s not the band’s intention whatsoever.
See, I think these guys respect digital technology, if not kind of love digital technology. These three Elektro Guzzi guys don’t just play their instruments like they’re machines; they turn them into ones and zeros. It’s imitation to the point of near-worship, and their embrace of loops and microsamples — purely as a compositional aesthetic, as YouTube proves they don’t use either — might very well make them an analog hardware junkie’s worst nightmare. Like The xx, recent digital worshipers from the indie rock sphere (though they’re admittedly grabbing far more from Timbaland than M_nus), the band takes the chilliness and distance of software — heretofore pretty damn unpopular — and runs with it. And in doing so, Elektro Guzzi goes quite a ways toward warming it up.
As meticulously arranged as the ten jams on Elektro Guzzi’s self-titled debut album are, and as totally nifty as they sound at points, the album does succumb to some of the problems that plague long-players of the bedroom producers they imitate: an hour-plus of repetitive, tiny sounds tries just about anyone’s patience outside the stony environs of the club no matter how those sounds come into being. Yet the tracks themselves are by far some of the craftiest minimal tracks I’ve heard in a minute. “Hexenschuss,” first on the band’s Macro 12″, still sounds fantastic. (The B-side from that 12″, “Elastic Bulb,” it must be said, still sounds a bit meandering and flat.) And the band’s new tracks reveal a range of creativity and contemporary techno knowledge that A-side only hinted at. “Black Egg” grinds in a way Audion hasn’t in years; “Sediment” would have slotted well on Planetary Assault Systems’ or Marcel Dettmann’s LPs. But the band is undeniably at its best when it pairs its love of techno with that certain something only a rock band can deliver. More abstract moments like “Loq Pul” and “Clapping” recall a moment in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when bands, best exemplified by those on 99 Records, used the raggedness of punk to infuse dance music with an experimental flair that was missing from disco. At their very best, Elektro Guzzi resemble Liquid Liquid for a digital age.
The band is undoubtedly an exciting addition to techno, but I can’t help but feel like they’d be deployed best right now as a live act. Their album, while certainly not lacking in great tracks (not to mention some ultimate riffage), lacks the kind of bomb that typically sends producers into the stratosphere. Yet how cool would it be to attend a live set and dance your ass off while having no questions about what’s happening on the other side of that laptop screen? Unfortunately, I believe Elektro Guzzi’s approach to making techno will become its calling card, which ultimately renders them a gimmick. The band prides itself on not needing a recording studio to do something resembling production, but perhaps they could benefit from a little studio magic, maybe in the form of a collaboration with someone (Ewan Pearson, perhaps) who values live and electronic music equally. But for now, bring on the world tour. I for one will be at the front of the queue.