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Techno music is a funny old game at the moment. The merest hint of fashion, or ego, and the old guard are up in arms. In 2008 then, they are marching with pitchforks on Berlin, waving banners proclaiming ‘we want the old Hawtin back’. It’s understandable, of course. This music was never about image, less so personality (put up your hand if you remember Rising High’s infamous “Faceless Techno Bollocks” t-shirts). It was owned by no one, a treasure discovered by those fortunate and open-minded enough to appreciate it simply on the basis of form. A lot has changed. Mixmag proclaimed that techno is now officially ‘sexy’ music. Er… it always was, thanks. But cue media frenzy. Everyone’s moved to Berlin. ‘Minimal’ is a — get this — ‘new sound’... don’t make me laugh. Sure, there is a slew of copycat, dullard 4/4 records going around that are about as cutting-edge as the Kaiser Chiefs, but this does not a musical revolution make. Far from it. And yet, as always, there are gems to be discovered by the adventurous. Techno isn’t dead, it’s just suffering from a dodgy botox job and a sketchy PR consultant.
Petar Dundov is a Croatian producer whose new album Escapements is a thing of absolute joy. Despite a number of previous releases, including one for Jeff Mills, I hadn’t come across his work until now. What Dundov has achieved so effortlessly here is to cross the apparent gaps in the world of techno, to remind us all of some things we may have forgotten. This album takes the word ‘minimal’ and applies it in the classic sense — long, meandering pieces that seem to do little yet are constantly evolving. Drums are pared right back, whole tracts of the album are powered by a simple kick and nothing else. You get the feeling that the club will explode with the momentous arrival of a hi-hat. And it will. But that won’t be for the lack of anything else going on. This album contains heavy synth action. This album contains a lot of — gasp! — arpeggios. For the oldest of the old guard, there was a time, fabled in the history books, when even trance was not a dirty word. Before it was co-opted by fluoro-adorned crusties in the '90s, trance and techno were almost interchangeable terms, particularly if a track was long and repetitive. Escapements harks back to this period and beyond (She In Purple gives a nod to Italo disco), but it’s not wilfully retro. It simply takes the perceived rules of modern minimal, techno and trance and throws them out of the window to create something rare: a truly honest record. And it bangs. The single Oasis is a monster. It is almost impossible to explain in words — just one of those tunes that is ten minutes of big sound system perfection, a guaranteed future classic. But Escapements also contains deep and reflective elements: Waterfall, for example, could easily be straight out of the Motor City with its big strings and deep, driving groove. Dundov’s not afraid to throw the drums out entirely either, with both opener Kanon and closer Anja’s Theme stripped bare of them.
So refreshing then, to hear this album. This is about as real and purist as techno music gets in 2008, and proves there’s plenty of life left in the old dog yet. Time to stop worrying about Hawtin’s jedi-knight-meets-flashing-bluetooth-box shenanigans and start concentrating on great techno records again. Make no mistake, in Escapements Petar Dundov has supplied us with one.