Demdike Stare – The Weight of Culture Mixtape
Despite being a complete music obsessive, I dread the moment when a casual acquaintance poses the seemingly innocuous question, “so, what do you listen to?” People familiar with me know that such lines of enquiry usually result in a lengthy answer involving names of bands that they won’t find on CDs in the local supermarket or in the iTunes store. I find it’s usually best to avoid such potentially embarrassing situations altogether.
One of the names I do tend to mention on these rare occasions however is Demdike Stare as I’ve been a huge fan of their work since picking up copies of Symbiosis and Forest of Evil back in 2010. They seem to fuse so many disperate aspects of my own record library together with each release and consistently defy easy categorisation. When I read that they were putting out a limited edition cassette mix a short while ago it was a foregone conclusion that I had to have a copy. Last week when the anonymous brown padded envelope arrived through my letterbox, I knew that I would be devoting a large chunk of listening time to it’s contents.
Side A begins with the sinister, droning strings of Sinfonia L’Attentato by Ennio Morricone from the soundtrack to an early 70s French/Italian thriller and segues effortlessly into John Carpenter-esque synth noir. After a short section of rippling acoustic guitar accompanied by heavy breathing and other sounds, Demdike drop the tape’s first curveball in the shape of Mambopolis pulled from the 1983 LP Brave Tales by US new wave pioneer Richard Bone. This is followed by several minutes of shimmering, cosmic ambience which is used to bring in Jeff Mills’ techno classic 12″ Growth. After just a few minutes, this record is replaced with the sound of deep, bowed strings set against a warm vinyl crackle. More strings are introduced, this time played at a much higher frequency before gradually morphing into treated voices and synth washes. The side rounds out with an excerpt of the fabulously tense At Giza from doom metal band OM’s Conference of the Birds album.
Side B opens with a wave of static which quickly recedes to usher in a fine piece of Ethio-jazz from Mulatu Astatke. This wholly unexpected lightness of mood is short-lived however as the sunny vibe gives way to jarring, clangerous electronics. It’s time for another another curveball, this time Demdike throw in the cheeky electro-S&M ode Wespendomina by Die Dominas from 1981. This track was written and produced by Manuel Göttsching of Ash Ra Tempel no less. After a burst of the brief Les Soucoupes Volantes Vertes by French electronic prog band Heldon (from their notoriously hard to obtain 1977 LP Interface), the electronics take over once again. A minimal rhythm track is overlaid with radio interference, muted voices, cymbals and all manner of audio artefacts before being subsumed by a wavering drone, vinyl static, plucked strings and finger bells. The tape ends with the full length version of Kaotic Harmony, an early cut by Derrick May which slowly melts into a final, brooding synth outro.
Over the course of sixty minutes, Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty once again prove that they are not just collectors of obscure records, they also fully understand and appreciate the emotional power contained within their grooves.