Hauntologists, EP1/EP2

murayama_5
Artwork by Macoto Murayama

[Hauntologists]


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Though it surely wasn’t the only limited-run boutique techno label launched last December, the Hauntologists imprint garnered plenty of interest and, naturally, speculation. The only concrete information provided was that the EP was recorded in Berlin and Düsseldorf, and that it was linked to Berlin’s Hardwax record store. The colonialism-chic of the the hand silk-screened record sleeve teased hints of African drumming from the reduced rhythms (for instance, the opening track), and of course there was that name, “Hauntologists.” Originally coined by Jacques Derrida to describe persisting echoes of communism after the fall of the Berlin Wall (see Spectres of Marx), the term “hauntology” has recently been moonlighting as a slippery adjective in music criticism, where writers like K-Punk and Simon Reynolds have applied it variously to elements in the work of artists as Burial, Mordant Music and Tricky, and especially to the sounds coming from the Ghost Box label. “EP1” seemed to pay lip service to one notion or another of hauntology, the sleeve pointing perhaps to repressed trauma lying in the bedrock of western culture, and the music’s analogue palette generally espousing an appropriation of “outmoded” futurist styles but, ultimately, the connection felt more incidental than anything.

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What was self-evident, though, was cerebral music that felt like live-in-studio rough cuts, but whose tripping rhythms and light funk adapted neatly to a club setting. The melodies in “A2,” for example, drone on unrelentingly as though building to all-out psych freak-out, but were kept in check by measured zaps of acid bass. The track’s plinking rhythms, meanwhile, had airs of clinical IDM and unabashed house, as well as the aforementioned African echoes. Though the two tracks on the B-side made more immediate sense as contemporary dance music, they cut close enough to “A2” that it was easy to imagine the entire record was edited down from some extended jam session. Interestingly, this lent the record a hell of a double-identity: post-rock noodling by day, unfussy dance beats by night.

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June brought “EP2,” a trickle of information, and even a little promotion from the Hauntologists camp. For one, Stefan Schneider and Jay Ahern came forward to claim responsibility for the music. Schneider’s full-to-bursting CV includes laptop improvisation in September Collective, live percussion in the Arcade Fire-affiliated Belle Orchestre, and bass in To Rococo Rot and Kreidler — to say nothing of his solo recordings as Mapstation. Ahern, meanwhile, has built a sturdy reputation for rolling techno as Add Noise, notably collaborating with Robert Henke. Where this “techno not techno” makeup handily explains the sound of their debut, Hauntologists’ second EP is more refined, tidied, and “on-genre.” Stripped-down, more functional percussion sacrifices a lot of the untethered, real-time vitality of the first record but, on the plus side, this record’s sound in general is richer and fuller. The bass lines stand out in particular, wound into tight, springy coils of almost tactile detail. The template pushes all the right buttons but — here comes the hand-wringing — to me, this sounds more like applied formula than the earlier record. With the exploratory rough edges sanded down, tracks like “A2” and “B2” sound a bit indistinct. That said, “B1” works rather brilliantly, with ominous ripples and writhing funk that craft a creepy mood and somnambulist groove more potently than anything else they’ve done. At this point, a more literal interpretation of the name “Hauntologists” might be in order: practitioners in the study of the spine-tingling.

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