It is not our music taste that that defines us, but rather how we choose to interpret it and present it to others. In my own mixes, I’ve never been content to merely present a song and allow it to exist on its own terms; it must be edited, tweaked, mixed with other songs and sounds until it becomes the entity I hold in my mind. Demdike Stare operate on much the same level with their music, with Mancunian candidates Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker mining the fields of found sounds and record crate rarities to produce original, hauntingly dark redefinitions. Unlike my preferred method of ADD genre-jumping, however, their first cassette mixtape release The Weight of Culture feels more like ideas woven together to form a center—a gravitational singularity that draws in the ears as much as the surrounding light.
The song selections on the album can be hard to distinguish because of their deliberate obscurity factor, though most (if not all) of the interludes are surely Demdike Stare’s own creations. Ennio Morricone’s “Sinfonia Per L’Attentato” forms the introduction, the strings forming a backbone of tension against which piping flutes summon cosmic synths that feel like an alternate, drug-induced take on the Doctor Who theme that spirals down into a web of plucked strings and heavy breathing. When the funky opening chords of Richard Bone‘s “Mambopolis” drop in, it’s almost shocking—sucking away the established ambience like an airlock opened into the void. The ambience that follows conveys the retro charm of a ’60s space opera thriller before we’re once again yanked out of it—this time by Jeff Mills‘ nostalgic “Growth“. The strings return, looming out of the darkness like pinpoints of light, rising higher in pitch unil they’re vibrating as much as your ears. Waves fade in and out as though from ancient radio transmissions, and it’s never quite apparent whether they’re voices or merely chunks of pitched static. A piece of OM‘s “At Giza” closes side A with hypnotically psychedelic bass guitar which (as I ripped my cassette onto MP3) fades into the sound of waves washing against an empty shore, an effect that also ties in with the B side’s closer, the strange and starved techno of “Kaotic Harmony” by Derrick May.
The Weight of Culture has something of the obsessive music fan someone showing off their obscure record collection, though with more of a loving, ‘Oh my god, you’ll never believe the crazy shit I found” feel rather than as an attempt to show off. More than this, it leaves the listener feeling uncertain, vague, never really knowing what they’re hearing. This vast multi-genre influence takes an unexpected turn with a bouncing piece of jazz, a genre which I know little about aside from the vignette music in Peanuts… though as far I’m aware, Snoopy and the gang never had an adventure interrupted by the appearance of some lunatic god hammering to get into reality, which is exactly what the track devolves into. Nor did Lucy ever dispense advice to the S&M NDW of Die Dominas “Die Wespendomina” (though it certainly couldn’t have hurt Charlie Brown’s chances in life). The galloping beat, interspersed with bits of sound—birds chirping, the chimes of bells—soon segues into something harder, more insectile. Gongs clash as snippets of voice waver in and out of existence, the minimalist beat eventually smashed into pulp against the keyboard. Carpenter-esque synthesizers make several appearances as well; whether these are original creations or some bit of obscure soundtrack is hard to say as the touches of record pops laid atop will keep one guessing. The struggle of recognition, in this case, is half the listening experience.
Across the whole cassette, Canty and Whittaker flex their audio alchemy with forgotten vinyl ghosts, shaping emotion as much as sound while treating each individual song with both reverence and a sense of playfulness. It’s a musical collage that aims to tell a story; how you perceive it is up to you. ~
Demdike Stare’s The Weight of Culture mixtape was self-released on February 14th.