Shadowy German offers up 80s UK electronica as blueprint for glitchy synth goodness
Everyone thinks their teenage years were a musical golden era. Anyone lucky enough to find themselves in their teens when I did will know this to be true. My own electronic adventure began in the early 80s with Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Sluggin’ Fer Jesus’ and their ‘Red Mecca’ album. My understanding of music up to that point had been that stuff should have a catchy chorus, like, say, Racey’s ‘Lay Your Love On Me’. You can imagine what the Cabs did to my world.
Berlin’s Prequel Tapes, it would seem, is cast from much the same mould. He talks of the distant lands of Sheffield and Manchester, an appreciation of The Cure whose melodies “stayed with me for days”, a fascination with Clock DVA and a subsequent obsession with techno. All of which you’ll gather from ‘Inner Systems’, his debut outing on Fink’s Ninja Tune offshoot imprint R’COUP’D.
Its creator is a modest chap who – and I appreciate the cliche alarm will sound rather loudly at this point – prefers to let the music do the talking. We’ll call him Mr Tapes for the sake of argument. So Mr Tapes unearthed a bunch of old DATs full of samples and sounds made by his old new wave/industrial band between 1989-91. Taking those tapes as the starting point, he dusted off some old vinyl as inspiration and out popped ‘Inner Systems’. The sound of his teenage golden era revisited, rewired and re-imagined.
The result is a deeply satisfying record of warm synthesis that will chime with anyone who uses as comfort blankets albums such as The Cure’s brace of ‘Faith’ and ‘Pornography’, Future Sound Of London’s ‘Lifeforms’ and The KLF’s ‘Chill Out’.
It is a dark, intense outing as the brooding opener ‘Under Your Skin’ attests, but everywhere there’s chinks of light, snips of melody, morsels of the familiar that are well worth waiting for. ‘When We Fall Into The Light’ does just that. A hypnotic nighttime Cabs-like rhythm leads the way, underneath which an almost orchestral swirl is slowly unpeeled, never quite fully revealing itself throughout the eight minutes. While the hypnotic ‘Scarlet Fog’ is so evocative you can almost hear it arriving out of the gloom. The title cut is a real treat with its haunting distant piano refrain, glitching bass and intense conclusion, while ‘Untitled Memory’ is perhaps the set’s showstopper. It almost has a tune throughout, almost. Its snug squeezebox-like thrum is pitted and potted by squelches, rumbles and ticks that leave you twitching along.
Much in the same way Ghost Box mine some 70s netherworld, Prequel Tapes taps into a very rich period of 80s electronica. While it’s by no means a party album, it is a deeply rewarding listen for those who share the same touchstones as Mr Tapes and will surely appreciate the way in which he has deftly messed with multiple pasts with such panache.