Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
In 2005, the Manchester label Modern Love released in quick succession two 12-inches and an EP from a Mancunian up-and-comer, Andy Stott. Across these sides, he revealed a sui generis grasp on Detroit’s deepest, caustic acid tracks, the harder edge of neighbors Claro Intellecto, while also displaying a knack for space and subtlety (check the strings that arise near the end of “Come Together”). Across full-lengths like 2006’s Merciless and a prodigious run of singles and EPs, Stott delved ever deeper into the echo chambers of minimal techno.
But in May of last year, Stott dropped a double 12” called Passed Me By. Housed in an arresting black and white picture sleeve with a portrait of an unidentified African tribesman — his gaze a harrowing mix of violence and void, with six gnarly scarred gashes across his cheeks — it presaged the darkness of the tracks within. Sounding like it was rendered in an abandoned factory in Chernobyl, the sound of decay and desiccation clung to every vocal snippet, bass throb, and drum hit. And when he followed it up but a few months on with the even more menacing 2×12,” We Stay Together (this one also featuring a haunting image), it confirmed that Stott’s tracks — now heavily narcotized and slurred — conjured that peculiar nightmare state wherein your body becomes physically unable to outrun the approaching danger. The noise and body-hammering low frequencies now had more in common with the extreme noise rendered by the likes of Sunn O))) and Merzbow than with other contemporary dub techno and dubstep producers. Which is to say, Andy Stott’s productions were unlike anything else happening in electronic music.
“It wasn’t a premeditated decision for those tunes to be slow and broken, it was just a result of me not being influenced by anything at that time,” Stott wrote to me via email from California, where he is currently on tour with fellow Modern Love labelmates (and fellow dark sound necromancers) Demdike Stare. This Friday night, Stott and Demdike Stare will bring their bleak, abraded tracks to New York City’s long-running party, The Bunker. “It was a really nice surprise to see how well those EPs were received, as those releases did make me take it one step further and I just felt like I could do something new and exciting for myself.”
Stott will follow up that success with his second full-length, Luxury Problems, set for release at the end of this month. As started with Passed Me By, it features another striking black and white photograph. “All three are actually taken from old National Geographic magazines,” Stott told me. “And it’s a long process to find the one you want. It was actually Modern Love’s owner who discovered all the images for the last three 12-inches. He has a really good eye for images that link up with the music.”
This time Luxury Problem’s art features a female swimmer, tucked mid-dive and suspended weightless for eternity, and looks like it could come from Leni Riefenstahl’s 1936 propaganda film, Olympia.
The vision of a powerful yet graceful female form contorted into an alien shape feels about right for the new album, as this time out, Stott foregrounded the female voice on this album: “I was already writing tracks for Luxury Problems and it came with real ease, but in the meantime someone asked me if I had ever have used vocals and I thought it could be a really interesting challenge.”
Stott only had one person in mind though: his old piano teacher, Alison Skidmore: “I would have been 15 or 16 when I was having piano lessons with her,” he recalled, realizing he hadn’t seen her since 1996. He still thanked her on his first album and sent a copy her way. “I remember her saying how she loved the textures in it, so I already knew she was kinda on the same idea as me.” As she was a family friend, Stott reached out to her, and the teacher-student dynamic leveled into a musical partnership. “I knew Alison was into more than just opera and classical music and almost right away she was sending me a cappellas and asking: ‘How do you want the vocal? What language? Whispering? More pop? Operatic?’ All these are ideas that she can execute so well.”
It’s as deft a mixture between the elegance of the female voice and avant-garde electronic processing since Luomo’s classic minimal techno album from 2000, Vocalcity. Except where that albums suggests glassy surfaces and modern skyscrapers, Stott’s productions favor tactile grit and turbid, dreary industrial spaces. On “Numb,” Skidmore utters the word “touch” and Stott does all the rest, letting bass tones creep in at the edges, billowing vowels into steam, and turning a boiler room turbine into a beat. Elsewhere, such sibilants and plosives turn percussive, while the ghostly aria of “Lost and Found” shines a light through the murk. The resultant collaboration makes Luxury Problems into one of the most adventurous and rapturous albums of the year.