There’s a theory that “good artists make bad tracks” on 50 Weapons, the London based label run by Modeselektor. While that may sound like a somewhat discerning discogs comment, one could argue that a certain balance of scales is maintained by the label’s diverse yet big-room approach, when murky hospital techno and insider-house threaten to dominate the critical airwaves. True to its artwork policy of featuring a portrait of the artist on the cover, perhaps what you see, is (more or less) what you get.
But from Dettmann’s beefy yet basic Linux to Shed’s weakest (but killer) LP, you get the feeling that a more direct, ‘dancefloor bombing’ approach has at times worked against the label’s distinguished invitees. Thing are clouded further when modern techno’s definition of a ‘killer groove’ has slowly been morphing from Hoodish aplomb into more genre-blending, oft-killer energy, with labels like Livity Sound and Hessle Audio channeling techno aesthetics into exciting territories, nestling into syncopated spaces, their bass weight almost reaching a tipping point.
It’s good news then, that two of the label’s recent 12”s (by Shed and Untold, the latter’s debut on the label) tread over historical ground without foregoing that look beyond: “Glare” starts off as a blazing dream of a techno track, a discreetly luminous synth hang-gliding over a quick-footed kick that wants to punch out of the the womb it was conceived in. The weaving fabric creeps up as the track progresses, whilst a distant train-horn and ominous bassline hover around it. But it seems Untold doesn’t like to be in ‘locked groove’ mood for too long, instead wanting to take his good idea and reshape it into an even better idea. This approach has worked both for and against him in the past: the pinging chords of at the end of “Caslon” manages to give it a new lease of life, whilst the beastly “Motion the Dance” loses its edge with the bass onslaught of its second half. Here, the decaying soundscape assault of “Glare” reduces the track’s original tension that around the halfway mark, you almost want to go back and replay it.
Good techno is nothing if not efficiency at the core. That’s probably why the A-side “Targa” outshines its more heady counterpart. With a liquid arpeggio urging it at the center, the track unfolds like a brief history of IDM. Its steely snares are distant and reverberate over an archaic hall, until a more jarring set of hats takes over, only for sweeping strings to appear halfway in. You’d think all of this would be too much, but there’s still space inside the Untold design. It’s like Actress, Aphex Twin and Function have come together in the studio, where, the former’s squelchy paint-brush work ethic gets coated with IDM nostalgia and SD’s industrial energy. Overbearing analogies aside, it’s a track that’s better than the sum of its parts; and those parts carry enough colour in themselves that in lesser hands, they would have made a garish mess instead.