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Porter Ricks - Biokinetics

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Artist: Porter Ricks

Album: Biokinetics

Label: Type

Review date: Mar. 29, 2012

It’s liberating to be writing about this highly regarded classic of dub techno after the dust has settled a little. Thomas Köner and Andy Mellwig’s LP Biokinetics was originally released on Basic Channel offshoot Chain Reaction, collecting their 12’’s for the label along with some new tracks, and it’s been plucked from its relative material obscurity by Type Records, also responsible for rereleasing Köner’s superlative icy ambient trilogy Nunatak • Teimo • Permafrost. Other publications and writers have struck their claims on Biokinetics, leaving a skeleton crew to soak up the remaining wonder and look at the process that’s articulated it away from the militantly unified aesthetic it was initially part of.

Prior to the reissue mania, Biokinetics was considered a high-water mark of dub techno but there was less momentum around its appreciation. Even by dub techno’s stringent standards, it’s a demanding thing to listen to closely, and its yield is somewhat ambivalent. It should be noted, however, that it has aged much better than some of its contemporaries, whose productions can’t help but sound thin and unmoored in the shadow of Biokinetics‘ full-blooded sound design.

Faced with its vision and the power of its execution, I can’t help but have respect for what the duo set out to do and what they plainly accomplished. Developing a visceral or emotional attachment to it is another matter (not to assume that’s the benchmark for all recorded music). It can set the mind on fire, but in other respects it’s pointedly monolithic, impenetrable. Of course, the context in which it’s coming out again provides a built-in appreciation. Against a backdrop of new producers (some of whom have a noise pedigree that isn’t too far from Köner’s work with field recordings and complexly processed gongs) taking a raw, sometimes lo-fi approach to house and techno, Biokinetics was and is prophetic. Of course, the sounds here are way more abstract, ambient, prickly and druggy than almost anything on offer these days, dub or no.

Dub techno is, after all, like any other genre: a tag borne of necessity. It denotes a level of anything-goes possibility, as well as a set of coded practices. Transcendence and stasis — great flavors that go great together. But dub techno was, like many dance sub-genres, kind of a blip. Reviews that note the dearth of “classic” albums from that movement don’t take into account the ephemerality of dub techno, or techno’s general aversion to the forces that designate full-length albums as enduring, final, long-form artistic statements.

If you fuck with the Chain Reaction and Basic Channel discographies, there aren’t an overwhelming number of external reasons that Biokinetics is any better than Mutila, Hongkong, or Landlocked, but there are plenty of subjective reasons to prefer Porter Ricks’ approach to Vladislav Delay’s, Monolake’s, or Hallucinator’s. Playing up the album’s uniqueness is a little disingenuous: if you like dub techno — and who among us with a taste for dissociated, repetitive, awesomely deep and gritty music wouldn’t? — you’re bound to like a lot of this stuff, and love some of it. But there are no real guiding aesthetic principles that secure the superiority of one release over the other. I suppose one of the functions of reissues when you can acquire the whole out-of-print and unpurchaseable Chain Reaction discography easily, is to give us some bearings. This is another win for Type’s curatorial eye, but hopefully the first step in a more robust appreciation of Chain Reaction.

By Brandon Bussolini

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