As far as American audiences are concerned, Steve Bug will probably get short shrift here: the German DJ and minimal house pioneer has the misfortune of dropping his entry in the London nightclub’s mix series in the wake of Ricardo Villalobos’ well-received Fabric 36. Indeed, for avid devourers of web content, it is difficult to remember a time when Villalobos’ particular brand of outrageous formal experimentalism wasn’t part of indie’s self-congratulatory eclecticism. In a way, the rapid succession of these two titles -- and the implicit contrast between Villalobos’ flamboyance and Bug’s pointedly neutral persona -- is a kind of informal gauge of the ways in which American listeners are opening up to house and techno, one that gives a particularly strong read on the qualities that make electronic music feel substantial to the colonized indie-blog mindset.
The qualities that have led early-adopters to embrace Villalobos’ work while maintaining a certain distance from house and techno genre-wise has everything to do with how his work reads: it’s simultaneously a stand-in for a difficult-to-approach cluster of genres and a series of audacious gambits with those same, ill-understood boundaries (of which Fizheuer Zieheuer and his “Blood on My Hands” remix are paramount examples). In this sense, Villalobos could be a stand-in for any “auteur” electronic producer: 2007 had a run of artist-driven albums (The Field and Gui Boratto on Kompakt, Matthew Dear on Ghostly International) whose listenership extended far beyond anyone’s expectations, and I am not the only one to think that 2008 could be pivotal in changing the direction of pop if the right acts got mainstreamed. Steve Bug will not be that person, not only because he’s German, but because as far as Internet cred boutiques are concerned, he is totally hook-less, an artist so deep in his native genre he’s basically invisible. To put it in French New Wave terms, Bug’s the Eric Rohmer to Villalobos’ Godard: to the initiated and uninitiated alike, the concerns that motivate his work are misguided at best, and totally irrelevant at worst (moral dilemmas have much less purchase on our minds than stylized revolution), and (this is the real deal-breaker) his art requires a commitment to the minor coincidences and wasted epiphanies of daily life. In other words, Bug’s music asks for real, radically decentered social space while Villalobos’ music settles for an entirely imaginary one. This is less a statement about their relative merits than it is about the ways in which they are more or less consumable in this particular moment, with electronic music’s cautious incorporation into a multi-tiered mainstream.
And the music? It’s superb, and the clip posted above can’t, by definition, do justice to its cumulative force. You’re 15 minutes deep by the time he drops the first piano vamp, but easing into the mix’s most readable gesture is half the fun. Go backwards or forwards from that point and it’s a matter of dry, restrained intensity. Elements stay in the mix just about as long as they need to make an impression, then cede place to new ideas, which are worked through in turn. Particularly impressive is Bug’s use of inchoate sounds to nuance the beat: synths don’t blurt out arpeggios, they emanate from the kick drum and reconvene in the form of rustling, clattering percussion that’s as far away from glitch as 2008 needs to be. And in many ways, Fabric 37 is just the closed system that metaphor suggests. There’s no grand, telling ruptures to destabilize the genre and open this piece up enough for those weaning themselves off of indie monoculture; just an extremely accomplished, generous mix that fully delivers on this series’ sartorial promise.