(August 2009) Labeling an album “Dub Techno” can give the listener a good idea of what to expect from the music and at the same time impose a very strict set of rules and expectations on the artist. Any time I start to listen to a new “dub techno”-labeled record these days, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect: someone ripping off Deepchord. And most of the time it’s a variation on that theme – the same languorous pads and minimal precussion, maybe some cut-ups and edits, maybe some real melodies. So when I listened to the new Tommi Bass album, Gamma, after seeing a “Dub Techno” label, I thought I was in for more of the same.
Not quite. While Gamma definitely has its roots in dub techno, Tommi Bass uses that template to move closer to the minimal house aesthetic, sort of like a dub techno version of Bruno Pronsato, or someone from the Diynamic stable. Let me explain: most of these songs would be in the classic dub techno mold if it wasn’t for the random sound effects that are scattered around all of them. The subdued, bare percussion is there, and so are the deep basslines. These elements don’t really mutate over the course of the song, though. The traditional “gradual change and modulation” effect of dub techno is left to random patches of melody, whirs, clunks, whizzes, hisses, and other random samples that slowly drift across the songs, and in the end make them worth listening to.
For example, “Gamma 1” is propulsive, the bass and hi hats moving reliably like pistons. Clinking machines, engine noises, and slow tapping sounds all make appearances, taking turns playing their parts over the 8 minute duration. “Gamma 6” has bee noises and mechanical synths playing a slowly percolating house beat. “Gamma 3” is like a Stimming song, with random hand claps and steady clicks all the way through. The rest of the album progresses in largely the same way, with steady minimal beats augmented by one looped sound effect after another, like a guided listening tour.
Just because the tracks themselves eschew simple descriptions doesn’t mean the album isn’t interesting, though. Gamma is an intriguing look at the opposite end of the dub techno spectrum from Deepchord – wired and oddball, but steady as ever. Tommi Bass has a pretty good idea of how to keep a listener’s attention, and I was amazed at how I was still interested in the album as the seemingly disparate parts came and went. If Tommi Bass is willing to add tonality to his sparse productions, there’s no telling what he’d be able to do.
Gamma is out now on Rednetic. [Listen]