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Artist: System

Album: -----

Label: ~scape

Review date: Oct. 10, 2002

Reviving Dub

Thomas Knak, Anders Remmer and Jepser Skaaning once were known as Force 3, a melodic techno project often compared to To Rococo Rot. The trio now operate under the name System, producing dub in the classic Berlin style on the ~scape label.

System’s first full-length, untitled -----, is reminiscent of Pole’s less daring moments. Their aesthetic is more warm than shocking, and takes few compositional risks. But whatever conservatism this implies shouldn’t be construed as boring or contrived, for there is merit in contributing to a well-tread style if you have something to say.

Not only has dub been interpreted directly on a massive scale worldwide since the early days of King Tubby, it has also impacted an astounding amount of music, particularly within the techno/electronic dance realms. Delay and echo applied in the dub style show up everywhere, having long since crossed the line from cliché over to acceptable foundational element. With dub so ingrained in modern electronic music, an artist working largely in its confines must produce an exceptional album to turn anyone’s head.

System brings approximately three things to the dub table potentially worth your attention. You can decide whether to turn your head or not. The first is the sound of the ingredients. Every element of the music is made out of little bits and pieces hacked up on a Mac rather than bass guitars and melodicas. System offers up said abstract delicacy as well as anyone right now. Regardless of the type of music, this skill is worth hearing. System’s debut displays the same ideal balance between bass and treble, between rough and smooth timbres, between wet and dry effects as on the most revered dub records. The texture of the music is a central part of dub, and to achieve this absolutely from scratch, using no “organic” instruments, is exciting.

The second point is the quality of the production. ----- is such a minimal record that every sound and effect count. Each is laid bare on a white table of silence, exposing all blemishes. In producing dub, one is permitted by convention to wash all the instruments in reverb, allowing for some obscuring of the underlying sounds, but System do not employ that tactic gratuitously. Knak, Remmer, and Skaaning evoke dub convincingly without depending too heavily on effects. Reverb shows up in the right places, but doesn’t dominate the songs. The exceptional detail of the sound is all the more apparent for it.

Thirdly and most importantly, these are good solid tracks, even catchy at times. They bring to mind not only Pole but also Jan Jelinek’s Loop-Finding Jazz Records (~scape earns points for consistency). Structurally they’re midway between dub and ambient techno, imbedding a straightforward melody in a percussion section of pin drops. Particularly indicative of this fusion is the song “Micro,” which is the strongest on the album. “Micro” is both clear and cloudy; the clicks and grooves occur just where you want them. It’s a five-star track, plain and simple, suggesting that System really have a contribution to make to the crowded dub conversation.

By Ben Tausig

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