utch programmer Speedy J (Joachin Popp)’s first two albums for Richie Hawtin’s Novamute label, Public Energy No. 1 (1997) and A Shocking Hobby (1999) are caustic and beautiful skips through Autechre-like experimental soundscapes. Sometimes analogue, sometimes playful, they mix ambience and breakbeats more effectively than most any single-artist recordings in techno’s short history. Fans of those records who are longing for another pioneering, exploratory effort will be disappointed by Speedy J’s latest, which is almost prehistoric by comparison.
On Loudboxer, Speedy J returns to the dancefloor with direct, unrelenting, usually 4/4 techno. It’s different than his previous records and most other contemporary techno to be sure, but revival isn’t necessarily a good thing—even the more grave-robbing world of rock has struggled with that in the past couple of years. This record is clearly meant to be listened to as a piece, it’s almost as a mix CD—possibly even a response to label bosses’ superior, richer DE9: Close to the Edit—albeit one that only focuses on the work of a single artist. Speedy J strives for cohesion by mixing only his own work, but it just highlights the record’s lack of invention.
To further hammer home Loudboxer’s back-to-basics approach, Speedy J even includes a snippet of a live version of “Krikc” complete with an orgiastic crowd roaring its approval. Hey, Joachin, we get it, there’s no need to offer evidence of this music’s ability to incite a dancefloor riot. But where am I listening to this? At home, on the train, in a car—that’s where. Hell, even at a party the lack of variety here would barely sustain my interest. The brutal muscularity of the sound leaves no room for nuances, for the ups and downs that can make the visceral experience of dancing seem like a ride. Speedy J isn’t leading the listener on a journey, just down a dead-end.
Granted, the album’s first third or so is a mix of short, sometimes squalid, bass-heavy tape loops, but it’s a red herring. The rest is that monolithic, cold mix of pummeling techno, which runs together in a forgetful blob of high-hats and driving beats.
Even on its more relentless second half, Loudboxer’s most enthralling tracks are ones that have already been released as singles, “Krekc” and “Bugmod”. Each of those—particularly the lighter, more percussive “Bugmod”—works better on its own, where it isn’t buried in a pile of like-minded sounds.
Time will tell whether this is a new direction or a conceptual misfire for Speedy J. I’d have to guess (and hope) it’s the latter. I can’t imagine that even he wouldn’t be bored by following this with another bullying assault of syncopated beats and harsh repetition.
Reviewed by: Scott Plagenhoef
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01