Various Artists
Snow Robots Vol 1 and 2

By Ian Trowell

Suction's engagement with a retro synth-pop sound predates the last two years burgeoning rise of this re-visited genre, however these two compilations effectively take us to the points of no return in both a forwards and a backwards direction. Volume 1 collects early out-of-print tracks with two up-to date remixes and two unreleased future tracks, whilst volume two collects later out-of-print tracks and combines it with more remix projects and fresh tracks.

Taking the latter first it's tempting to assume that as Suction moves forward the sound seems to move backwards and customises an idealised 1980 (as opposed to 1980s) sound executed by the later punk-electronic scene and the early futurist scene – for example Human League and Visage. Without re-visiting the specifics of the spookiness and cultural technics of 1980 in 2001, it has now reached the point where Suction (arguably the best in this field) have passed through the simulcrum and are now producing better 1980 tracks than those produced in 1980. Gregory and Jason work their alchemy better than many of the newcomers to this scene, and their selection of cohorts such as D'arcangelo, ISAN and Skanfrom seem to be able to sample and freeze that undefined moment when pop breathed its last sigh and gave itself up for girl/boybandism.

Volume 1 is considerably more revealing, as you are given the chance to bench-test your guesses as to how the Suction sound manifested itself before the synth-pop sweetness of today. Not an easy task to pin down the origins of a sound that progresses backwards in 'cultural time' as it goes forward in 'real time'! Like a washing powder advert on the TV, the results are startling, with more a case of 'the inside of a dalek' than 'the emperors new clothes'. Suction's beginnings stir in their development of "distortion pedal new wave" – a nasty mash-up of breakbeat, industrial and acid with the odd Autechre carcass put to the sword. It's discomforting listening, and the notes reveal Suction's own reaction to their disillusionment with the "digital irony" prevalent in the bedroom electronics scene.

The tracks themselves bear testament to the US (and Canada) take on the UK drill and bass scene pushing forwards agonisingly slowly in fits and starts through labels like Hydrant and Plug Research, until the scene impacted with its own over dwelt on reflection and splintered into the crypto-hip-hop of Schematics, the sonic execution of Kid 606 and the sublime electro of Suction. This volume does contain a highlight with the inclusion of Big Robot/Deep Pond in what appears to be an industrial-electro re-work of White Lines, whilst the two unreleased 'future' tracks return the listener to the soft clad sanity of modern day Suction. Though calling the track Steve Strange is a bit of an easy option – how about 'Mind of a Toy Thief' for a better working title.
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