While it was perhaps justifiable to approach the EBM/coldwave/synthwave revival of a few years ago with suspicion, seeing as much of it seemed to consist of raking up a lot of substandard seven-inches and adding little or nothing to the existing canon, there’s no denying some felt satisfaction (not to mention vindication) in seeing new audiences getting excited about sub-zero sequencer patterns and Belgian accents again. Better still is this highly likable release of lean, inventive proto-EBM on Peripheral Minimal by a scene original, rather than a fresh-faced new kid.
Matthias Schuster was an early electronic experimentalist contemporaneous (if not exactly parallel) with Cabaret Voltaire‘s mid-seventies provocations and with whom he shares a formative influence in Dadaism and, more broadly, surrealism. It’s easy, then, to see how Schuster was a willing convert from hippie-leaning progressive rock to the nervous, abrupt energy of punk upon his unplanned exposure to it in London. Easier to perceive, perhaps, is how this simple recipe leads us into Aus den Anti-Imperialistischen Tagebüchern (From the Anti-Imperialist Diaries), which takes as its palette the analogue contortions of electronic pop’s murkiest ancestors. A core member of a number of German synth groups such as Bal Pare, Geisterfahrer, and Das Institut, Schuster cut his teeth on these projects as early as 1979 and has been producing music ever since. Thus, he’s not exactly a newcomer to the sound.
Surprisingly, for so-called machine music, what’s immediately clear in these recordings is how fluid, organic, and alive so much of it is. While loops, rhythm, and repetition are used to great effect, Schuster rarely allows the pieces to stand still for long, managing to nudge them onward without overcomplicating or sacrificing the track’s consistency or character; for bare-boned synth ‘n’ drum compositions, this is a delicate balance between maintaining interest and purity of form.
Trainspotters will find plenty to keep them busy with this record, but to do so would be to miss the point: Schuster cannot be accused of being retro for retro’s sake or merely regurgitating sound-alike references. His own artistic gestation means that he has as much ownership over the sweaty, grinding bass line on ‘Bio-Hacker’ as Gabi Delgado and Robert Gorl do. Arguably, many of electronic music’s renowned pioneers ‘got there first’ and styles were appearing spontaneously all over, all sprouting from similar sources and influences. That’s not to say that Schuster doesn’t evoke other groups in a knowing fashion, but he does so with his own fresh interpretation. Instead of pulsating with the restless male energy of actual DAF, ‘Bio-Hacker’ instead sounds like the group at the end of a marathon electro-jam session, all aching muscles and half-conscious delirium, barks reduced to atrophied mutters and where even the machines are on the point of total collapse.
Elsewhere, as on the charmingly pastoral ‘Im Deutschen Wald’, the sing-song vocoder sections never approach parody or imitation but achieve the required effect without flying too close to the Dusseldorfian sun. Similarly, the relatively straight-up proto-techno of ‘Entfuhrt’ (‘Kidnapped’) feels like an entirely justified lurch forward in evolutionary time.
Perhaps a fair summation of Im Namen des Volkes‘s sound would be that, in his dedication to a niche stage in electronic pop’s development, he has, like any true master, teased and unearthed fresh nuances of interest from ground long-thought barren. It’s a bumper crop too: nineteen tracks and almost seventy minutes of ideas, rarely repeating himself even when revisiting certain stylistic areas (e.g. the woozy sequencer-drum machine humping). That he’s weaving this alchemy using the original tools and practices of the era (Schuster works only with analogue equipment and records to tape) is still more impressive.
For those of you enamoured with the earliest burblings in chilly European electro-punk and still willing to believe there’s life in the old circuits yet, Aus den Anti-Imperialistischen Tagebüchern should more than satisfy your needs.
01) Euer Geld
02) 99 Menschen
03) Im Deutschen Wald
05) Bio Hacker
06) Mann in der Maschine
09) Industrie Synfonie
10) Hunde Im All
11) Alles Ist Umsonst
13) Dein Bester
15) Ritual 4.1
16) Aus Den Anti-Imperialistischen Tagebüchern
17) Werd mit die Eins
18) Stimme aus dem Ather
19) Zwanzig Millionen