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CD Feature/ Aarde: "A Whole Day"; Kasper van Hoek: " Den Haag/ Groningen/ Froombosch"; Dead Wood & Red Needled Sea: " Split Series #3"

img  Tobias
Historical evidence shows that clearly defined images can be extremely helpful in selling records. In this respect, Dorset-based label Dirty Demos has done everything right in shaping an immediately recognisable corporate identity for itself. DIY and a great deal of individuality are the trademarks of their packages, which come adorned with picture postcards and tiny souvenirs which seem to have been included just for you. In actual fact, with editions seldomly exceeding 100 copies, this impression might actually be pretty close to the truth.

Another essential aspect of label founder Adan Baker’s company philosophy is a rapidly proliferating catalogue placed under strict quality control. Regardless of whether he’s dealing with Noise or Micronoise, dabbling his feet in funky rhythms and infectous grooves, diving into Field Recordings or demonstrating his love for dreamy drones, dedication to detail and highly professional productions are a conditio sine qua non: Dutch reviewer Frans de Waard once rightly asked what difference there was between one of the label’s releases (limited to 150 copies and sold at bargain prices) and a CD by seminal American label 12k (easily exceeding 2.000 units).

The album de Waard was talking about at the time was “a whole day” by Aarde and truly, this concise, 35-minute short effort has all the ingredients to have fans of sensitive electronica go mad: Lush ambient moods, swelling textures and sweet harmonics are placed underneath hissing, hickupping and abrasively stutterring soundscapes and enriched with occasional melodic hooks to create soothing, deep and dramatic textures. This is music at the verge of an emotional outburst, capturing that moment just before you’re going to say something seminally important like “I love you”, but lack the courage to actually do so.

A duo divided between French artists Lois Laplace and Guillaume Gargaud, Aarde could well turn into Dirty Demo’s most important discovery. Laplace holds the same penchant for the Kyma Soundsystem as Drone pioneer Richard Lainhart and a similar talent for using it to create outwardly appealing and inwardly complex musical structures. Gargaud’s Guitar, meanwhile, provides for the necessary impurities and organic washes, sometimes extending into veritable solo explosions just underneath the surface – such as on the tense psychotrip “Not really alone”. On “Coming to Life”, the album comes to a yearning end, trying in vain to grasp that last straw before sinking down into an disturbed state of sleep, drifting off into a darkening horizon like the hot air balloon on its cover.

Small editions are also the specialty of Kasper van Hoek. Over the past five years, he has slowly worked his way up from print runs of one (“Broken Speaker Music”) to 300 (“Minerva”, a Vinyl LP pressed as part of his graduation from art school), arriving at a style incorporating elements of electroacoustic composition, field recordings, drones and noise. “Den Haag/Groningen/Froombosch” presents listeners with six audiopaintings inspired by particular streets in the Netherlands, with source material recorded in situ.

It is important to note that van Hoek is not looking for a realistic impression of his selected locations. Most tracks are actually collages of different spaces, with disparate elements overlapping in a surreal game of juxtapositions. With the field recordings firmly in the centre of attention, the underlying textures, often replete with subcutaneous tension and opaque harmonic structures, award these dense, delirating scenes a halucinatory intensity and frightening darkness – the Dutch tourism agency should probably buy and destroy all 50 existing copies of this short, but significant release.

As he’s proven on a plethora of previous occasions, Adan Baker is not just a creative label manager, but also an inventive producer and musician in his own right. Operating under the flag of Dead Wood, his discography has grown mostly on the strength of 3’’ CD-Rs, many of which have long sold out already. The self-coined term “Heavy Ambient” is a pretty accurate description for his contribution to Dirty Demo’s latest release as part of the “Split Series”: Using slightly impure Sinus waves, Baker creates a claustrophobic continuum of near-static undulation, microtonal bleeps and microscopic knocks, before gradually inflating and manipulating its resonance. Somewhere between experimental timbral explorations and spooky soundscapes, this is a tense, seventeen-minute trip de force.

Siding with Dead Wood on “Split Series #3” is Red Needled Sea, the nom de plume for Greek Sound artist Panos Alexiadis, whose full-length for Triple Bath records, “Old River Blues” was one of the pleasant surprises of 2007. “Room Temperature”, meanwhile, is quite a bit off the latter’s cinematic duets between foreign environments and Piano, concentrating on layering nightmarish drones against each other and researching their ghostly friction areas. Development is slow at first, but the piece speeds up in the second half, with sudden swings in Ambiance providing for the necessary diversification, even though the music seems to keep lapsing back into its depressive vortex throughout.

All in all, these three CDs provide for an excellent overview of the label’s activities and the eclecticism which has enabled it to enter the most diverse scenes, while pleasantly obscuring its image in terms of style. The most recent round of releases, meanwhile, was marked by an even higher degree of ambitousness and professionalism, with Lois Laplace’s Audiovisual DVD project “To Semiturn - A journey at sea” taking centre stage. These continous forays into unknown territory prove that even though Dirty Demos are benefiting from their image of lovingly realised designs and a personal spirit, it is still the music that counts. Let’s hope this philosophy will prove to be just as succesful in selling records.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Aarde
Homepage: Kasper van Hoek
Homepage: Adan Baker/Dead Wood
Homepage: Red Needled Sea
Homepage: Dirty Demos Records

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