Bored of London? Try this intelligent psychogeographical take on our nation’s capital
‘A City Remembrancer’, the debut album from south London producer Ed Gillett, is something of a confusing paradox in the world of electronic music. This is, after all, a form of music that is inherently a product of progress. And yet, by taking London’s ongoing state of flux as its subject matter, Gillett is asking us to think about the implications of advancement.
London is, of course, a product of constant change and continuous development. Its long history is one of population upheaval, ghettofication, community displacement and gentrification. Typically this is undertaken under the auspices of societal improvement, but more cynically because of the financial motivations afforded by real estate.
Gillett’s conceit when documenting the psychogeography of London’s history is subtly manipulative. On one track, ‘Mudlarks’, he includes recorded conversations of archaeologists trawling the amorphous muddy banks of the Thames to reveal relics from the city’s past, long buried and randomly brought to the surface thanks to the tidal movement of the famous river. In doing so, he is gently expressing how the great waterway itself attempts to preserve the capital’s rich history. Contrast this with ‘Heygate Palimpsest’, about a doomed housing estate in Elephant and Castle wherein London’s policymakers sought to forcibly erase an aspect of its social legacy and pretend it never happened. The estate itself was constructed using the principles of Swiss-French modern architecture pioneer, Le Corbusier, and was regarded as modernity itself when it was built, yet is now seen as embarrassing by planners compared to shiny cookie-cutter glass boxes. It lasted less than 40 years.
With these politicised themes as the motivation, ‘A City Remembrancer’ should perhaps have been a folk album. Instead it has the same depth and ambient sheen as The Orb circa ‘U.F.Orb’, its ideas being allowed to develop along discrete paths before swelling into more complex, almost mechanistic arrangements. ‘Zoned (Hectate)’ fizzes with warm, bubbling analogue textures before carefully-positioned breakbeats add an element of forward motion and energy to the track before dropping out into gentle, pretty piano layers. ‘Vertices (Ziggurat)’ finds Gillett spraying the track with juddering, skipping beats and monolithic bass tones as it attempts to draw a comparison between high-rise developments and the doomed Tower of Babylon.
If the subject matter sounds like Gillett is focussed solely on problems, that isn’t totally the case. The ethereal atmospherics of ‘An Exemplar’ has that forward-looking sheen of a science documentary, the tones and textures intended to evoke feelings of invention and the power of imagination (think Disney’s future world EPCOT Center theme park), but is its inclusion laced with irony? After all, Corbusier’s concrete dreams were once seen as the logical panacea for encouraging demographic and societal harmony.
These are deep themes, unsettling ones if you choose to focus on them, and Gillett only really offers you an insight into the issues; it’s up to the listener to decide whether to respond to, or ignore, what he’s teasing out here within the structure of an absorbing suite of intelligent electronic tracks. Choose wisely.