Photek - Solaris
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Person 1: What do you call someone who speaks multiple languages?
Person 2: Multilingual.
Person 1: And someone who speaks two?
Person 2: Bilingual.
Person 1: What’s someone who speaks only one language?
Person 2: American.
If electronic music is myth—a series of mechanical sounds made human by proxy—then jungle and drum ‘n’ bass are the foreboding terrains of its tale. Peppered with cold, skittish breaks and a moon perpetually crested on the horizon, the land has only subtle illumination. It’s a craggy surface, unyielding and practically unemotional, that only those with either a deep fetish or a deep love would bother making a home. If that’s the case, Rupert Parkes (aka Aquarius, Code of Practice, The Truper, The Sentinel, and now Photek) built a nation from it with only three albums.
More specifically, Parkes built a highly complicated national language, one that sometimes took him weeks to program. Its science drew hordes of acolytes, all clamoring for a chance to at least imitate something like “Aleph 1” or “The Hidden Camera.” What separated Photek from his peers was that just about all of his work is on his records since he never really DJ’d and wasn’t some remix mercenary who just happened to make records on the side. This music had a definite design and a planned shape; it was a complicated series of angles combined to form something massive. And if, according to Hobbes, geometry is the only science God was pleased with to bestow upon men, then Photek was quite close to being the Lord of Jungle and Drum ‘n’ Bass.
But Parkes wasn’t the genre’s savior. A master, yes, but he carried no desire for maintaining this empire of shifting meters and polyrhythm. He had other interests, other lovers, and many postcards: Chicago clubs in the 80’s, Detroit raves in the 90’s, Autechre, and Kraftwerk. What emerged in 2000 was Solaris, which had effectively rid the nation he almost single-handedly crafted. Instead, as the album cover depicts, you have a landless horizon that emphasizes fluidity rather than Form and Function. Parkes now wrote in cursive and spoke in tongues; geometry, for its entire scientific splendor, just couldn’t, you know, move.
Solaris lives in arguably the most neglected part of drum ‘n’ bass: the bass line. The bass line on “Terminus” doesn’t just stall like some monotonic hum, that shit has curves. It undulates and waxes, stretching your speakers like putty and letting it set only to knead it the next time. On “Junk” it follows the downbeat for nearly half the song only to arch up and out, refusing its status as some lifeless appendage. Hell, it sometimes even makes the downbeat its inferior (“Glamourama”), giving it a deeper bottom during the song’s breaks.
What’s most astounding about Solaris is the way Parkes takes the normally sterile compounds of his chosen genre and molds them to fit an entirely different emotional range. “Mine to Give” is solid, no-frills acid house using almost all staples of the drum ‘n’ bass institution. The beats are sparse and the bass throbbing and constant; besides some light synth, this should be a standard fare d ‘n’ B track. See, here’s the real wonder in the entire album: even though he’s speaking an entirely different language most of the time, Parkes is still using the same words. Still trapped by the old, comfortable lingua franca, many didn’t bother with Solaris. It was instead an ultimate abnegation and an outright tarnishing of all things good in the genre.
For shame that Parkes would try to show that this music could work in ambience (“Lost Blue Heaven” and “Halogen”). For shame that a jungle pioneer doesn’t look upon the 303 Machine with scornful eyes. For shame that this same jungle pioneer wanted the music—for just a single damn album, 55 fluttering minutes—to feel, to breathe, to swim and to ache. See, it’s the recalcitrance of the genre’s enthusiasts, their obsession with just the foundations, which keeps the genre on the fringes. It’s the single-minded love with a language that’s good enough that breeds a gut hatred for the polyglot world. Xenophobia is what killed Solaris.
So for all the Roni Sizes and LTJ Bukems purporting to expand the horizons of jungle and drum ‘n’ bass, for all the jungle aesthetes who didn’t even give Solaris the time of day because Chicago House staple Robert Owens was involved, and for all those who visited scorn upon Rupert Parkes’s head because he wanted to actually make this music feel: keep your language. Parkes achieved what all the aforementioned ersatz “genre benders” couldn’t; collaborated with musicians jungle and drum ‘n’ bass enthusiasts said he shouldn’t; and made an album that those same detractors said he wouldn’t. Solaris is the humanity possible even from cold mathematics. It’s language at its most powerful and beautiful.
By: Ayo Jegede
Published on: 2006-05-30