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Jori Hulkkonen: "Man from Earth"

img  Tobias
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Techno is slowly coming of age: Global networks are distributing its philosophies. Artists are setting up their own labels and emancipating from old business structures. A vibrant internationalism has taken hold and leveled the field between its original homelands and the rest of the world. After several difficult years, the club community has consolidated. Released almost perfectly in sync with each other, two new documentaries („Speaking in Code“, „Villalobos“) are offering serious and personal portraits of several of the scene's leading protagonists. Despite these obvious achievements, the traditional divide between Techno's ecstatic proponents and its embittered enemies is still as wide as ever. In search of its roots, the community seems shaken by a musical midlife crisis. Its map of influences remains a mess, its aesthetics diffuse, its philosophies blurred.

Jori Hulkkonen could be the man to make sense of it all. Others may have scooped up more limelight and fame. But ever since his debut in 1995, he has represented the different factions and united the polarities of Techno like few others. As part of a second wave of producers and DJs, Hulkkonen was just a tad too late to qualify as a pioneer and was always slightly too much a man from earth to ever become a part of its detached, postmodern and ironic caste of opportunistic superstars. Like so many of his colleagues, he split his ego into myriads of precisely delineated sub-projects and unleashed a tempestuous flood of 12inches. But amidst this confusing profligacy, he also established himself as a careful album builder and a man who was able to set his preferences in what others perceived to be complete chaos: The full-length releases under his civilian name, as he has emphasised on various occasions, were to be seen as the true backbone of his entire oeuvre, as the constant lifeline along which he built his career and as the artistic legacy which was to survive the hypes, trends and one-time-wonders.

In his long line of records, „Man from Earth“ is already entry number ten. And, as though through meticulous planning, the celebratory release marks a new beginning of sorts, being the first album not to be published with (at least temporarily) defunct outfit F Communications. Consisting mainly of tracks scored for possible singles, it also counterpoints Hulkkonen's tendency of carving out a distinct, premeditated architecture for each of his releases. Which is why the result is not only extremely diverse but filled to the brim with irresistible hooks, physical grooves, mesmerising textures and voluble ideas. Rather than digging for coherency or working on a sustained tension arch, „Man from Earth“ is keeping the pressure on for its entire 74-minute duration. On paper, this may seem like overstretching things a bit. But it is the sheer stylistic breadth of the material which turns the album into a veritable roller-coaster-ride.

One could end this review right here. After all, Techno has often been most effective when it refused to be analysed and defied overt concepts. There is more to „Man from Earth“ than its amiable feel-god- and fun-factor, however, and against the odds, it is this very depth which elevates it above the directionless din of average efforts. What expresses itself through this colourful string of experiments is, in fact, an incredibly profound knowledge about the various origins and offshoots  of the genre – as well as a remarkable talent at bringing them together under one roof. Hulkkonen establishes links to Synthie-Pop (gothic-tinted opener „I am dead“ as well as the dreamy title track), Acid (hyperactive dancefloor-burner „Dangerous“), Electro (the intoxicating future-funk of „The Other Side of Time“), Micro-House (deliciously crackling „Musta Gunilla“) and Minimal („Bend over Beethoven“). He is equally adept at pushing his tracks on the strength of raw and resonant Bass-blurps and gently infusing them with sensuality through an intricately interwoven Synth-pad. His compositions may both rely on no more than a single motive or on a complex construct of rhythm, pulse and timbre. And thanks to his delicate sense for arrangements, pieces are not just a bunch of tracks in shuffle mode, but develop with an undeniable stringency.

Very decidedly, Hulkkonen is rejecting the notion that Techno were some sort of alien organism which had intruded upon the music scene on the mid-80s out of nowhere. He is making the connections to the American minimal movement apparent in a way that seems both historically informed and musically sensible: On „Dangerous“, he first breaks up the bodyshaking groove of the track to enter into a passage of sexy Sax-pulsation that sounds like an outtake from a yet-to-be-written Philip-Glass-quartet for reed instruments - then somehow fuses it with the stomping kickdrum and gurgling filter oscillations of the opening sequence. And on „My Brother Went To Space And All I Got Was This Lousy Vacuum“, at just over eight minutes the longest cut of the album both in duration and title, he takes a hypnotisingly irregular motive and passes it from one timbral section to the next like a symphonic composer, while gradually building up a gale-force wind of aggressive analogue subsonics and mesmerising digital harmonies in the background.

Through all bar a single track, a steady four-to-the-floor bassdrum is beating underneath the action like a reassuring beacon. It is telling in a way that one hardly notices it at all throughout the album's entire length. Even though he has stuck to the style's defining traits, Jori Hulkkonen has managed to turn them inside out and not only make them sound fresh, but actually exciting and urgent again. Into its third decade as a genre, Techno may be undergoing a major midlife crisis. But „Man from Earth“ looks like proof that this transition may well turn out to be just as inspiring as it is going to be painful.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Jori Hulkkonen
Homepage: Turbo Recordings

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