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Akkord – Akkord

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Label: HoundstoothScore: 9/10 

The eponymous debut album from the once shadowy duo of Akkord – a pair that moonlight as Manchester based producers Indigo and Synkro – is an oceanic sized trench of techno influenced, dub flecked, UK bass music that basks and revels in its mastery of sound, design, precision beats and deep, deep, DEEP bass. It also marks the end of an absolutely massive year for arguably this season’s breakout label, Houndstooth – legendary London nightclub Fabric’s artist led endeavour, ably fronted by Electronic Explorations head honcho Rob Booth, Leo Belchetz and Rob Butterworth.

Hard, dark and cold are all apt words that can be thrown at this release. Supplanting colour and melody for mono-chrome, greyscale atmospheric backdrops and grime influenced bass tones, Akkord have creating an otherworldly experience that combines the attitude of early era dubstep with the relentless, inhuman, pinpoint precision of techno.

The first thing you hear when playing this LP is the sound of warm analogue hiss – probably from some of Matt Colton’s high end equipment, a name now synonymous with quality and excellence in sound, having just been crowned MPG’s mastering engineer of the year – a sound that, like Burial’s infamous vinyl crackle/rain samples, glues the entire project together, imbuing it with a surprisingly soulful feel that belies the album’s cold, glistening exterior.

Word’s such as “clinical”, “cold” or “stony” have been doing the rounds when discussing this project (I have even above!) but in some ways, although I DO feel the description is apt, I think Akkord are being hard done by a bit with those descriptors attached. For me, the album is alive and bristling with emotion, it just taps into a different area of sentiment than most music released nowadays does.

It is dark, it is moody, but it’s not that simple, those words don’t actually properly describe what is going on behind Akkord’s self-imposed Iron Curtain. The sporadic use of shifting time signatures, the fluid, polyrhythmic treatments, the hissy, weasing industrial sounds that rush in and out of focus, and the use of harsh edged metallic sounding swoops and wails combine to create an enthralling, but utterly alien landscape to get lost in. The whole thing is transportational – it takes you somewhere else, somewhere visually unique, and because of that I definitely see this piece of work sitting within the wider cultural phenomenon’s of both cyberpunk and even futuristic hauntology.

Things are similar but different. Techno’s powerful, futuristically alien sounds are tempered and brought back to an alternative reality by, often, organic sounding percussive treatments and found sounds that are rooted in genres and ideas that we all understand. It is this juxtaposition of the techier, exploratory aspects of techno machine music with the fluidity of UK bass music rhythmic history that marks the album out as something that is a bit different and a bit special.

Sure, cross overs such as I have described are common nowadays – it’s one of the only ways to be original in today’s day and age – but rarely has it been done so well, and even rarer still have people so instinctively picked elements, that although familiar on their own, are so different when brewed up in an alchemists cauldron. Elements of the grimer end of dubstep –  its FM-esq womps, its the dread infused atmospherics – joust with the sharp, clipped claps and hi-hats of instrumental grime and the pounding, relentless, robotic nature of techno’s sequencer based, otherworldly synth tones and acidic riffs, to supreme effect.

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The beats are generally varied, swinging between, polyrhythmic and straight up techno, through to breaks, digi-dancehall, jungle, dub and even grime, ensuring that the album doesn’t get stale or repetitive. These influences all weave their way through the albums DNA, but with nothing sticking its head up above the parapet long enough for the music to pigeonholed into any specific genre. Yes, the sound palette is fairly limited, but it never gets boring or played out, and, it is pertinent to note, that in order to create an album that is cogent, accessible but also exciting and exploratory, you need to limit your imagination a little bit and tease out as many new ideas from what you are working with as possible. If you don’t, and you employ an expansive set of sounds and ideas you run the risk of falling foul and creating just a collection of tracks – as massive as they all may, individually be – rather than an artistic statement proper.

Im not going to describe the tracks individually or even name check any stand out tunes, as I feel with albums in general, but with this one in particular, to do so would be to do the project a massive disservice. Album’s such as this need to be consumed in their entirety, as a musical journey has been written for you to undertake – therefore why not experience it in its entirety as intended? Why not get lost in someone else’s mind for a bit? Why not attempt to transcend your own reality to get at emotions that cannot be voiced? It’s not that hard to do to be fair, to listen to an album from start to finish, and I lament the fact that as a society we are evolving to see music as a commodity rather than an art form – music is fast becoming another bit of human culture that is disposable, worthless and throwaway –  I always shudder when I see someone putting on a album only to skip through it, not even taking their time to listen to even ONE whole tune … Anyway, I digress…

Ultimately ‘Akkord’ is the culmination and almost the logical conclusion to the journey the pair have undertaken so far. Having been Initially birthed as an anonymous collective – partly due to the fact they didn’t want any of their previous music to influence the way that people took in their new project, but partly so the line-up and dynamic of the project could be flexible and changeable (much like fellow shadowy Mancunian collective Gescom) – with their first, anonymous white labelled releases fast becoming collector grade releases, the pair have, in their short time span of existence, created a fully formed artistic persona and sound that although fits into the bass/techno axis with ease, also sits somewhat on the outside of the established scenes, allowing them to bastardise and mangle their influences for all and sundries enjoyment without fear of genre critique or expectation.

It’s top quality, original, compelling and utterly exciting music for both your body and your soul.

The question that needs to be asked is this “is it possible for them to actually top this?” A toughy when you are almost starring perfection in the face. Have they, like the label clearly has, made a Faustian pact with the devil? Regardless of whether they and the Houndstooth camp worship the devil or not, I, for one, am thoroughly looking forward to hearing what they, and the label come up with next! Bring on 2014!

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