Front & Follow – 15th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Front and Follow is a label that’s carved a special niche in the cassette release corner of the industry, and has, for those in the know, become a trademark of quality. But sustaining such consistency – or even anything – as a one-man operation is hard work, and often with little reward. As such, while I was sad to learn they’re taking a break, they’re signing off with an incredibly strong release, courtesy of Ekoplekz, who is also embarking on an indefinite break.

The album’s pitched as ‘drawing parallels between present day Britain and that of the turn of the 80s, Ekoplekz looks back to that era’s industrial and post-punk soundtrack for inspiration,’ and the press release continues: ‘In a land increasingly brutalized by austerity and divided by nationalism, the tensions that informed some of the post-punk era’s most important works (Red Mecca, Unknown Pleasures, Metal Box) haunt this collection of bleak postcards from the present’. The present is indeed bleak, unless, of course, you perhaps run a hedge fund with billions backing a no-deal Brexit or you’re a major corporation invested in climate change denial or pharmaceuticals. But then, if you’re in that bracket, you’re probably on your private jet grabbing bitches by the pussy and going gammon about these smelly hippy protestors or somesuch. For the rest of us these ae dark times that require a dark soundtrack, and as I’ve said elsewhere, it’s no surprise that we’re experiencing a different kind of 80s revival at the moment. Brutal and divided pretty much sum up both UK and US politics and cultures , as well as further afield. Who actually feels safe on the street? Who actually feels safe as a career artist? Who isn’t remotely concerned, doesn’t feel concerned, panicked, anxietised? We don’t need Duran Duran replicas like The Bravery, and even Editors and Interpol’s take on post-punk feels lightweight in the face of the crises that define the current – and so Ekoplekz plunge deep back to the late 70s source to dredge real darkness and despondency here, and in doing so, In Search of the Third Mantra soundtracks the present – bleak as it is.

With In Search of the Third Mantra, Ekoplekz sets his spheres of reference out early, with ‘High Rise Dub’ carrying Ballardian connotations and ‘K-Punk’ taking its title from the seminal blog of the early noughties by the late Mark Fisher, to whom the album is dedicated. This, then, without wanting to sound elitist, is no mindless replication of an array of retro tropes, but a considered assimilation of myriad sources, distilled into something wilfully challenging. We would expect nothing less of K Craig, filmmaker and front man of currently-resting Last Harbour. This is quite a departure, but works in context: while we don’t get brooding vocals and arch-gothic sonic structures, there’s a brooding nihilism that rumbles at the core of In Search of the Third Mantra in the same way it lurks so many albums of the period, and a lot has to be credited to the production.

It’s got grooves and danceable beats, but it’s also possessed of a dehumanised detachment, a sense of distancing and dislocation: you’re in the zone and in the space where you’re feeling the distance, the disfunction. The fact that this doesn’t fit, the fact that you don’t fit.

The spartan electronica of the former, with its dubby bass and rhythm that shuffles and clatters conjures a sense of alienation and otherness, while the latter brings things down a notch darker, laser bleeps and eerie vaporous notes hover ominously. ‘Do the Meinhof’ goes full motoric, channelling the insistent industrial grooves of DAF and Cabaret Voltaire into a tense death disco pounder laced with icy synths.

The sonic touchstones are all very much in evidence as the listener is led through a haunting desert of sound, dark, murky, menacing. ‘Accept Nothing’ has hints of The Cure’s Carnage Visors soundtrack, and the atmosphere which permeates all ten compositions is unforgiving and inhospitable.

There’s a degree of linearity to the album’s sequencing, and each track feels sparser, less defined, and with this progression there comes an increasing sense of collapse, of emptiness, and while sonically, the pieces are spacious, the atmosphere is evermore paranoid. One feels as though familiar structures are falling away, disintegrating. By the time we arrive at ‘Heart Addict (In Make Up)’, there’s little left beyond an almost subliminal, stunted dub bass that twitches anxiously alongside a barely perceptible beat, and we’re left, alone, disorientated, and teetering on the precipice just inches from the void.

AA

Ekoplekz_cover

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