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Lucidstatic: Symbiont Underground

img  Tobias Fischer

There seems to be a broad consensus nowadays that there is no such a thing as an underground in music anymore. With formerly recalcitrant or at least „alternative“ genres like Indie-Rock, Metal, Rap and Punk having long been assimilated into the mainstream, the old division between „pleasant entertainment“ and „challenging stimulation“ has supposedly been replaced with an emancipation of the niche in commercial terms and a complete blurring of borders. This development is not just a result of the levelling powers of the web. It appears to be a natural tendency of revolutionary forces, as even the most leftfield creative propositions are reaching for the limelight: Extreme Noise is analysed in major magazines. Blackmetal praised in conservative newspapers. Sound Art awarded lucrative public prizes. In a sense, the underground has been forced to withdraw into an area of obscurity, where it effectively cancels itself out, turning towards vinyl at a time when people were discarding their turntables and towards cassettes when tapedecks had all but disappeared. The idea, already put into practise by a handful of fanatics, of publishing music on 3,5inch Floppy Discs points to the kind of absurd maxims these tendencies are guided by: The more inaccessible the music, the better. And the less people listen to it, the bigger its artistic value. Quite clearly, this is not the kind of spirit Symbiont Underground is paying homage to.

To Lucidstatic, quite on the contrary, producing has always foremost been about communication and creation, an exchange of ideas and shared ideals. It is certainly no coincidence that, next to his already prolific album schedule, his work has simultaneously manifested itself through collaborations, remixes and compilation contributions – formats, in short, which celebrate community, diversity and the juxtaposition of differences as a means of expressing unity. Accordingly, his discography has both consisted of cc-licensed netlabel releases, freely available to all as a gift and as a means of encouraging engagement, as well as carefully lay-outed physical products, showcasing a plethora of different styles, ranging from the harsh and confrontational to the harmonious and comforting. This separation into different musical personalities not merely constituted an expression of eclectic interests. It also served as a way of exploring various paths all leading to the same goal: Depicting the world around us, its emotional turmoil, political madness, social chaos, appalling mediocrity and occasionally terrifying tastelessness, without glossing it over. This was music in defiance of acoustic photoshopping, a burning plead in favour of immediacy and intuition supported by the crunch of digital sound synthesis.

To anyone intimated by the rawness of these works, Symbiont Underground will surely seem like an inviting gesture. To claim, as Lucidstatic has done, that it sounds a lot lighter and notably less aggressive than his back catalogue is, however, both an understatement and slightly misleading. Already the mere fact that this double album comprises twenty three collaborations of distorted beats, unsteady metrums, apocalyptic atmospheres, delirious bleeps and underworldly bass growls, collectively clocking in at just under two hours and mastered by Pneumatic Detach's Justin Brink with a punch-in-your-face-directness, inherently implies that it is neither a compromise nor for the faint-of-heart. And yet, the sheer diversity of the material as well as the pervasive presence of vocals, albeit mostly run through an array of effect plugins and mixed intriguingly behind the music rather than demonstratively on top of it, add a human element and a wide palette of colours to the impending darkness. Rather than submitting listeners to another mindblowing tour de force, the emphasis is on taking them on a hypnotic trip through the entire spectrum of experimental Electronica as well as the multitude of grey spaces in between its various sub-genres this time. And so, the album incorporates anything from stomping Industrial to elegant Dubtechno, from futuristic Ambient to straightforward, dancefloor-oriented Trance, from to-the-point songs to nebulous free-form arrangements. It also proves the ongoing relevance of the album-format in an age where the ready availability of music has all but erased the notion of dealing with it for much longer than a casual listen and a superficial glance: This is a statement in favour of engagement and an invitation to immersion, of truly spending time with these pieces and of discovering them at one's own pace.

Within the awe-inspiring continuum, meanwhile, prioritational axes are quickly starting to reveal themselves, as some artists have been invited for more than just one contribution: There are two pieces in conjunction with Human Error, offering a combination of destructive breakbeats, bleeding harmonies and plaintive piano droplets. Two tracks with Pig Fat, treading the line between the majestic and the massive, the melodious and the monolithical. And then, there are a full three collaborations with Mono Penguin, which, both in terms of their sheer imagination and scope, would warrant a project of their own: „Dissection“, a blatantly catchy track hinging on a two-tone melody suspended over a warm bassline and rapturous percussion. „A.L.“, a both playful and groovy tune opening with a concoction of laid-back Hip-Hop beats, heavenly harmonies and cut-up-style samples, culminating in an over-the-top finale of sinister two-step drum n bass. Last but not leastm there's the equally janus-faced „Headhunter“ with its Acid-style bassline and neurotic tweets. While the first disc of the set highlights the slightly more extensive and experimental selections, the second features more concise and accessible material – if these terms mean anything here, that is.

On the one hand, of course, Symbiont Underground is a highly personal effort representing a sum-and-summary of Lucidstatic's oeuvre so far. Most of the artists featured on the collection have been long-time friends and creative partners, after all, the chemistry between them capable of bringing out the best in both. Some of them, Pig Fat and Angel of Violence to be precise, are even importantly among the few like-minded individuals of his Alaskan home, where, as he has repeatedly pointed out, the scene for this kind of music is all but non-existent. By blurring the line between remixes, collaborations, instrumentals and veritable songs, too, the record effectively mirrors the multiangled approach pursued by the Lucidstatic discography as a whole. On the other, it is very much a statement of intent directed at the entire community. By bringing together a cast of colleagues ranging from promising newcomers and rising talents to established acts such as Mothboy or Manufactura, it spans the entire breadth of what the scene stands for today. It also represents a social statement in itself, focusing the act of creation on its most fundamental function of bringing people together and creating personal relationships. And, as the liner notes put it, it is dedicated to "the musicians who make music as an obsession, a compulsion, an artistic therapy, a fix rather than a means to see profit or gain.“

Lucidstatic once described the idea behind his project as making sense of the randomness surrounding us. That is exactly what he has achieved here. To him, the underground as an alternative to the mainstream is not about money or public exposure. It is an attitude towards creativity, an irrepressible quality inherent to those wishing to go further, aim higher, act bolder and refusing to surrender their vision. And, as this collection of emotional confessions proves, it is more alive than ever.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Lucidstatic
Homepage: Tympanik Audio

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