ASSS | 100 EP (Details Sound 2015)

Giuseppe Magistro and Matteo Fabbri’s Italian-Berliner label Details Sound has emerged from that murky, humid, sticky sub-metropolitan environment where the notion of what we might be moved to call ‘techno’ is acquiring completely new contours. As we wrote here on Juno earlier this year, Details Sound is widening its reach with two new signings ‘from outside the monochrome cult they call home’. After M//R’s No Tag No Food – an EP that in spite of its modular beastliness also frequented the cleaner, smoother shores of contemporary techno – the second of those detours, this ASSS 100 EP is, as the designer of the EP Federico Lupo puts it, ‘granitic techno’. Twenty minutes of dark, intensely textured beats and smashed-up washes: heavy, hard-hitting techno on the borders of noise and industrial.

It’s a bit like Regis and Maurizio Bianchi getting together to play Whitehouse, remixed by Vatican Shadow. A fantasy, all things considered

Oregon-based Alex Smith and Sean Sumler – Sean Pierce seems to have left the gang, and his Sutro EP is also out on Berlin-based Mannequin right now – seem to have morphed their music over the years into an unexpected, unexpectedly untameable form of violent adult sonorities. Thinking back to things like the positively technicolour glow and languid synthlines of their 2011 split with Meddicine on Clan Destine Records, or even to more recent productions such as their Taxi Helms and Halt Sex Mi on Haunted Air, ASSS has become a thing of totally black, elegant but merciless roughness.

Minimal to the bone, the tracks are numbered, not named, couting from 100. All voices have gone (who needs words?). Beats still matter, but beats are more complex: “101” is a hammeringly repetitive crunchy piece awash in plate reverb, addictive in its changing rhythm patterns and dark as hell – it closes on a tumbling set of metallic bangs which are more Test Dept’s Total State Machine than anything they’ve worked on before. “102” and “103” work on an equally disturbing but thinner, more precise apparatus, introducing more familiar textures in amongst the beating pulse – moments of ear-piercing, long crystalline high-pitched dings punctuate the frothy washes of throb and squelches of white noise. An elaborate, knotty panorama. Things cool down slightly on “104” (although it was always freezing cold anyway), which is a more pensive, 5 AM kind of track. Moments of distended, hazy, puffy calm carry a series of attack-halt, attack-halt grinding variations. All along ASSS perform a dissatisfying, and as such all the more hooking, game of full stops and modifications, establishing something truly physical between the listener and the record. It’s a bit like Regis and Maurizio Bianchi getting together to play Whitehouse, remixed by Vatican Shadow. A fantasy, all things considered.

In an interview with Mexico’s 8106 this summer Smith and Sumler spoke about having discovered an unproductive technical obsession in their work a few years back which was leading them to lose a certain amount of rawness – hence the choice to incorporate analogue synthesizers into their work, and experimenting with the analogue without instruction manuals. They certainly no longer need to worry. Although they’ve lost that classic analogue synth sound, ASSS now sound intensely organic, as if this were an arrival point of another, deeper kind of rawness. There’s a ruggedness to this EP that while feeling completely machinic, somehow makes you think of metal, of earth, of rock.

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