The Mothers of Reinvention

I've been listening to the new David Bowie album a lot recently, mainly trying to figure out exactly what all the fuss is about. Sadly despite numerous, hyperbolic press reports that he had all but single handedly saved music, I'm yet to be convinced The Next Day is anything other than a fairly decent rock album. It's a verdict that I'm sure is keeping him awake at night, but reading between the lines of even the most enthusiastic reviews you can't help but think many of them could be reduced to firstly "Oh my god, he's alive" and secondly "Thank christ this isn't a dubstep album and/or total shit." 

Still for what his recent career lacks in 'sick drops' and 'massive bass', Dagenham Dave does offer artists one inspiring lesson and that is the power or reinvention. Throughout his career Bowie's continually shifted from one guise to another, hapless hippy troubadour onto glam rock alien sex fiend, plastic soul boy to coke guzzling stormtrooper and so on and so on, wearing well the clothes, styles and sounds of the day that have best suited him, when many artists seem to encase their career in amber his chameleon like properties are always to be applauded.

Of course the anonymity of much of electronic music makes this kind of artistic reinvention much easier to pull off, if no one knows much about you to start with it's a hell of a lot easier to just re-appear with a new name, logo and sound. Yet for all its inherent mutability many dance music producers often seem curiously conservative, rigidly sticking within the rules and regulations of their assigned genre no matter how much they talk about hating to be pigeonholed.

Still that appears to be changing and in recent years we're seeing more and more 'mysterious' or 'secret' projects as people play with identity and realise that shifting the beat slightly forward or back or trying different tempos isn't actually heresy. The subterfuge and sleight of hand whilst tiring when anonymity becomes the norm is still understandable when you look at some of the near hysterical reactions to Skream's recent announcement he would be DJ'ing, and we presume producing, house and techno from now.

For some artists though shedding their musical skins in second nature. Under one name or another Dylan Richards has been scaring sound engineers and the public alike for several years now. Having initially started out as ZILLA blurring the lines between hip-hop and electronica with a series of mixtapes, produced alongside Buddy Peace, that culminated in Warp Records commissioning the pair to create the astoundingly inventive and intricate Watch and Repeat Play mix that accompanied the label's video retrospective.

One more self-released mixtape, Grinted Teeth and Brawsville that headed harder and faster into electronic territory and remixes for the likes of The Chap and Unique 3 followed before his music took an even weightier direction and he re-emerged as King Cannibal on Ninja Tune, with a pulverising sound that flitted between the darker edges of drum n bass, dubstep and dancehall. 

One album and DJ mix later and Richards founds himself relocated to Berlin, where immersed in the city's legendary house and techno scene he has reappeared again this time under the name House of Black Lanterns and signed to Fabric's new Houndstooth label. 

Those familiar with his work will recognise many of the tropes to be found in the new material. There's a familiar sense of unease and claustrophobia and you get the idea that were it to be reproduced on sheet music it would probably come inked on human skin like some Funktion One powered Necronomican, but this time Richard's obsession with bass weight and ominous strings is channelled through Techno's dystopian prism whilst its beats tip their hat to Chicago's Juke scene.

Tom 'Squarepusher' Jenkinson is another restless soul who seems incapable of staying creatively still for five minutes. Over the course of a career that has lasted nearly two decades he's constantly shifted his sound, exploring multiple facets of his musical personality, often happy to leave his existing fan base behind scratching their heads.

From mutant drum 'n' bass and twisted 2-step to solo bass jazz experiments he's continued to do his own thing regardless of public opinion. Last year's Ufabulum, and its attendant LED heavy mind melt of a live show, has seen him return to his electronic roots and its a further development of that sound that he showcases on his remix of the Mercury nominated Ghostpoet's new single 'Meltdown'.

Eschewing the hyper kinetic beats of much of his work, the focus here is more the juxtaposition between Squarepusher's laser guided melodies and bombastic trancey riffs and the subtle delicate electric piano that runs throughout and Ghostpoet's low key vocals. It really does make you wish he'd work with vocalists more often, still reinvention is never more than an album away here so who knows what comes next...

Posthuman, whose In Apophenia, I mentioned last month are another case in point. Over the past decade and a bit on a variety of labels such as Skam, Seed and most recently Horn Wax, they've experimented with everything from your traditional (if such a thing exists) electronica to post-rock, techno and electro, whilst also releasing everything from electroclash to novelty hardcore rave under a range of pseudonyms such as AGT Rave Cru, The House Husbands, Snapmouth and On/Off.

From 2001's album Uncertainty of the Monkey, which I insisted on listening to at the wrong speed for six months, to their recent more straight forward efforts, the duo have shown an admirable tendency not to rest on the laurels. Their last few EPs have seen more of a focus on the dancefloor and new tracks such as 'Hecatism', conjure up the same kind of dystopian view of the future as Remote's recent excellent 'Terminato'. Electronic music stripped of all unnecessary warmth and humanity, reduced down to serve the brutal logic and needs of robotic dancers. It's working well for them and I for one hail our new machine overlords.

Few electronic producers though come close to matching the, seemingly, tireless process of musical evolution of Mark Pritchard. Almost pathologically unable to settle on one name or style currently occupies space on my record shelves under the names Global Communication, Reload, Link, Chaos & Julia Set, Harmonic 33, Harmonic 313, Africa Hitech, Troubleman, The Modwheel, Jedi Knights, Secret Ingredients, NY Connection and probably half a dozen more than I'm just not even aware of.

From ambient soundscapes to jacking electro, house and techno to dubstep and dancehall, library music and drum 'n' bass, at some point he's had a go at them all, and almost unbelievably pulled off every one with ease. Mark's exemplary back catalogue should be an inspiration to producers who find themselves in a rut and people that snipe at artists who have the temerity to do what they want.

Orthodoxy and conformity are the enemies of innovation, sure reinvention doesn't always work out as well as it has for say Mark Pritchard, but the alternative is to stagnate. Remember as Adam Ant once sand "Ridicule is nothing to be scared off," next time you're sat staring blankly at Ableton try shifting that hi-hat a few beats along, what's the worse that can happen...