Doctor Rockit
The Unnecessary History of Doctor Rockit

By Tom Giles

 
In what sense is a new Herbert release 'unnecessary'? OK, so it is a compilation and therefore inherently not as good as a new album; but nevertheless it is a pretty fantastic showcase. Besides, it's a fair bet that you won't have heard most of this before: it's been out of press since the collapse of the otherwise perfect electronica label Clear.

The last time there was talk of an electro revival in this country, Clear was one of its leading proponents. But unlike the current crop of electro-wank artists, Cear took the electro aesthetic to the next level through the work of producers like the Jedi Knights, Kirk Degiorgio and our boy Matthew Herbert. It is from Herbert's Clear days that over half of the material on this compilation is derived.

As Donovan once sang, 'simplicity is what it's about'. And Herbert doesn't half know that. The album's heavily minimal opener, Cameras and Rocks, (from the Ready To Rockit EP on Clear) manages to captivate the listener effortlessly, hardly developing at all. This is exactly how the music of sounds needs to be. The Runner On Hasting's Beach is another brilliant example of Herbert's use of simplicity to draw the ear to sound: slowly the sound of a runner on pebbles is augmented with drips, clatterings, and wondrous synthesizers: a lesson in sound yet to be appreciated by many producers. Besides these lesser-know pieces we have the first song to make an accordion sound cool: Café de Floré. This and the recent Veselka's Diner really add another dimension to the compilation.

It's not all good though. Hymnformation, whilst being politically sound is sonically terrible; Hi-Speed Rockit is frankly irritating, and a good example of how Herbert's simplistic approach to synth programming can sometimes fail. But, hey, there are just too many good tunes on the album for these to be anything other than minor gripes.

Unfortunately for the dear doctor, as the Herbert project took off with addition of Dani Siciliano and Phil Parnell, he has been retired. Since the release of The Music of Sound in 1996 we have had only the Indoor Fireworks LP, the Veselka's Diner 12” and a handful of remixes. So, for me at least, this modestly titled little package is a welcome reminder of just how groundbreaking the Doctor Rockit project was.
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