I was trying to thrash out exactly what it is that makes Tiefschwarz's recent string of remixes so startling and intriguing, and how it is that they cohere as something we might call a "body of work" when they cover such a broad range of sounds and approaches - in essence, why Tiefschwarz are to 2004 as Ewan Pearson was to 2003, awarded the title of Remixer-I-Want-To-Canonize. Listening to their mix of Mocky's "Mickey Mouse Motherfuckers" (as part of Ronan's excellent DJ-set as Omnipotent Baby, What Goes Wrong When Trying To Make Friends
) it struck me that a good deal of the attraction lies in Tiefschwarz's essential crudity. Which is an odd thing to say about a duo who started off making luxuriant, "classical" deep house and now make fractured, complex electro-house epics. I guess what I mean is that, at least in their current incarnation, the duo aren't afraid to be obvious in their "juvenile" appreciation of the varied abundance of sonic tricks that litter dance music history, deploying them with all the subtlety of a "shock and awe" bombing campaign. The main attraction of "Mickey Mouse..." is a bouncy percussive bassline that reminds me simultaneously of early Warp and Technotronic, over which the duo lace a meaty, cut-up house beat and drizzling synth explosions; these are aural equivalents of Mocky's Peaches/Gonzales-style swearing, their primary purpose being to convince you that there's nothing the duo won't
Warp and Technotronic (or early house-pop generally) are big reference points for Tiefschwarz, as they are for quite a few producers in the post-electroclash scene - it's surely only a matter of time before some French wag makes an instrumental "edit" of "Pump Up The Jam" so that Ivan Smagghe can put it on one of his mixes. Both sources are notable for the way they inextricably intertwine populism and brutalism (it's easy to forget how much "Pump Up The Jam" broods
) with sonic hooks that are both abrasive and accessible, and (in the case of house-pop) songs and vocals that try for a sort of mock-toughness, a steroid sexuality. What I particularly like about Tiefschwarz though is that they don't over-emphasise the brutalism at the expense of the populism. On ILM Jess
said in relation to Smagghe's Death Disco
mix that if artists are going to revive early Warp then they should take their cues from LFO's "We Are Back" and not Sweet Exorcist's "Testone", and I know what he means (the greatness of the latter record notwithstanding). "We Are Back" is actually a harder, heavier record than "Testone", but its enormous, slightly silly computer chorus and ungainly galloping groove are more instantly inviting than the latter's slightly abstract menace and steely precision. As Smagghe's Suck My Deck
mix shows, abstract menace and steely precision can have their own considerable benefits, but it's the way that Tiefschwarz circumvent this general tendency towards default minimalism that distinguishes them from even the best Black Strobe affiliates - and, indeed, makes their thick, voluptuous remix of Phonique's "The Red Dress" a peak moment in that set.
Where much of Suck My Deck
proposes a new sort of compulsive dark-electro purism - stripping away the exterior peculiarities of electro, house, acid, bleep 'n' bass and techno to produce a sleek, shiny homage to physical menace - Tiefschwarz celebrate a profound impurism
, gleefully mixing and matching the most paradigmatic, temporally-confined tricks from different styles. The music is retro, yes, but rarely do any of their mixes call to mind a particular moment in musical history; instead, the effect is closer to that of bootlegs, or the work of particularly skilled multi-genre synthesists like The Avalanches, Richard X or Daft Punk. Richard X might be the best reference point actually: if his productions imagine a world where the synthetic aesthetic of the early eighties never died, Tiefschwarz attempt a similar feat in resurrecting the rudimentary sonics and technology of dance music from the late eighties and early nineties. It's a conceit I'm sympathetic with: the fact that arrangements are now more sophisticated and subtle than those of early house-pop with its stuttering snares and pseudo-acid basslines doesn't take away from how powerfully effective that music remains, how gloriously ambitious and novel it sounds.
Of course, neither Tiefschwarz nor any other contemporary producer has made anything as shiny and unambiguous as "Vogue" or "100% Pure Love", and I wonder whether it's something they can successfully attempt. As with Kompakt-style pop-techno, the attraction here is the negotiation of two extremes: on one end, slithery electro minimalism, on the other, brash, bold-stroke dance-pop. If Tiefschwarz's work didn't attempt to master both of these extremes simultaneously I can't imagine it would be as compelling as it is. Your advised to not take titles like their "Black Box Remix" (of Chicks On Speed's "We Don't Play Guitars") too seriously - the "Black Box" as such is a spectral echo in a dubbed-out, rock-grunty house mix that even includes a weird rock/rap breakdown section.What Tiefschwarz cannilly absorb is not the disco vocals or glittery piano riffs, but science
of house-pop, the physical impact that underscored the sweet hooks.
Perhaps the duo's best remix to date - and incidentally their biggest LFO moment - is their take on Spektrum's "Kinda New". I use "accomplished" deliberately, because despite their aforementioned crudity, this track is marked by its strategic use of restraint, delay, build-up and finally climax. The most immediately remarkable aspect of this record is its pompous swagger
: the opening rough snare tick suggests a certain level of impatience, as if the track is biding its time until it can get going, but wants you to know that it's not one to be trifled with (like a man tapping his foot ostentatiously in a queue). Tiefschwarz build on this with awesomely resonant metallic bass hits, used sparingly to indicate that the track's full force is approaching - this time reminding me of scenes in monster films where the beast's incessant approach is marked by growing ripples on the surface of a glass of water - interspersed with these erupting bleep riffs that seethe across the surface of the groove, a tightly restrained panicky euphoria that can't help but bubble up in momentary lapses of restraint. The song's vocals, a bit too sneery in their original form, are interwoven with these effects, creating a new narrative: the smug self-satisfaction of the groove itself. "Cos you know this feeling... is something kinda new...." it whispers, later cackling "Tonight I give it up to you!". At which point the rudimentary bass groove unfurls with these glorious (but never soft) mirage-like flourishes of synth shimmers, accompanied by searing, stereo-panned Vitalic riffs and the vocalist murmuring ominously "let it in-side-you!". It's a homage to the triumph of its own inevitability - how can you resist a groove like this?
And yet for all this inevitability, the interplay of effects still has a certain unrehearsed quality, like you're listening to a junior school orchestra where the possibility of everything falling to pieces hangs over each bar like a dark cloud. Unlike with typical school orchestra fare, the dance music Tiefshwarz create benefits from this ramschackle quality; the rough rubbing together of each component deployed generating a friction that makes the groove seem to spark with static electricity. As with "Prototype", "Timecode" and "Lovelace", this emphasis on sonic interplay reminds me of Orbital, but an alternate universe Orbital where, instead of growing more sophisticated and "musical", their skill at negotiating different ideas actually devolved
, resulting in tracks as lumbering beasts, drunken sphynxes (or Voltrons) whose clumsy advances demolish everything in their path quite by accident (Orbital themselves hinted at this possible new direction in their underrated late-nineties rave-homage "Know Where To Run").
This model of dance groove - grooves with transplanted sonic organs that the "body" might reject at any moment - is one which appeals to me at the moment, popping up frequently in the rough'n'ready, gloopy bass grooves of Areal tracks, or in the globular microhouse and schaffel of Robag Wruhme and the Wighnomy Bros (see particularly "Bodyrock", or, in a similar vein, Losoul and International Pony's "International Snootleg", which cycles between lush and spiky with a delicious asymmetricality). It's a model which encourages artists to think out new ways of making grooves work, precisely because they don't have
to make the groove cohere, and this lower threshold allows for some inspired bits of amateur sonic surgery, suturing together ideas that can't easily be fused (remember the rat-pigeon made by Bart's identical twin brother?). Being good students of deep house and Black Stobe style electroclash, Tiefschwarz haven't abandoned sleekness completely (and why should they? Amatuer surgery isn't necessarily
better than the shiny seamlessness). Instead, this and their other great tracks and recent remixes (of Hell's "Listen to the Hiss", The Rapture's "Sister Saviour", Minimal Compact's "Next One Is Real", as well as their own "Blow") negotiate a charming middle ground: a glittering electro futurism where the intestinal inner workings are proudly displayed on the outside of the reflective glass walls.