Ever since they started to explore the legacy of breakbeat techno, the Zenker Brothers’ Ilian Tape has become a standout label. They’ve come up with a fresh sound that is totally their own and release tracks that are continually inspiring to me. It’s one of those labels that I just know that its next record will be amazing, too. I’ve closely followed one of the label’s regular artists, Skee Mask, since his first release back in 2014. I was instantly drawn to his music, and that admiration only increased with Junt, his second 12” on Ilian Tape, which came out last year. Accordingly, my expectations for his debut album were pretty high. I am quite happy to report that it not only matched but exceeded them.
I think an album should be more than a collection of club bangers. Ideally, it tells a story and has a narrative that keeps you captivated all the way through. If you can accomplish that as a producer, chances are that your album won’t be forgotten a couple of months after its release. In my own experience as a listener, it’s this narrative that tends to stick in your head and keeps you coming back to an album again and again.
There are quite a few parallels between Skee Mask’s musical approach and mine, so maybe it’s easy to see why I’m drawn to his music. I’ve just started working on the follow-up to my debut album Code for Ostgut Ton, so the release of Shred is perfectly timed. Quite frankly, it’s an inspiration to push my own sound further. I’m not one of those artists who tries to isolate himself from other musical influences—as a travelling DJ, that’s kind of hard anyway. It’s true that the amount of input can be a bit overbearing at times, but every time I come across something that really stands out, it’s motivation to push and develop what I’m doing.
In that sense, an album like Shred serves as a stimulus to explore. It’s like starting a creative dialogue. Remember the heyday of Metalheadz? Producers like Goldie, Photek, Source Direct, J Majik, Adam F and Hidden Agenda would show up with fresh tracks at Metalheadz sessions every Sunday and try to outdo each other, pushing the envelope further and further. It must have been amazing. Today, very often you just sit at home in your bedroom studio twiddling away on your own. But I like the direct exchange with other artists’ developments. The other day Marcel [Dettmann] told me that he’s in the studio working with Ben [Klock] again, and that he enjoys working on new tracks together and having this immediate exchange with someone again. I totally understand where he’s coming from.
Obviously, I love the UK influences at play on Shred. Take the title track for instance, or “Melczop 2”, with its perfect interplay of rough, jungle-esque breakbeats and airy floating pads. This balance between melancholy and club readiness is what makes a lot of the tracks on the album special for me. It’s one of those tracks that I can relate to instantly. What sets Skee Mask apart, though, is that his music is darker than the music of his peers on Ilian Tape. Quite a few of his tracks on here have an evocative, almost soundtrack-like sensibility to them.
When I listen to Shred, I can hear influences of Autechre, Global Communication and a whole lot more of the UK’s IDM and breakbeat lineage, and maybe a bit of Shed also. But as much as those records might’ve been a starting point for Skee Mask, he’s developed a sound that is totally his own. That’s one of the most exciting things about this new album. It sounds fresh and modern. Immersion, the widely hailed debut long-player by the Zenker Brothers, was one of my favorite albums of 2015. I can easily see Shred becoming one of my favorites this year—and it’s only February.
Published February 18, 2016.