The essential Blawan listening experience from “Fram” to “Blika.”
For little over a decade Blawan has been at the forefront of a definitive shift in the sound of Techno as one of the new vanguard of the genre. An intuitive approach to rhythm and sound, he has been the harbinger of a new futuristic ideology for the dance floor that has seen his star rise alongside a rising trend in the genre.
Although Blawan came through during a wave of “future” genres out of the post-dubstep era in the UK, he is now firmly installed amongst the Techno elite both as a DJ and a producer. From the first provocative rhythms of Fram to his latest contribution to the XL catalogue, Blawan has delivered an idiosyncratic sound throughout a career that has evolved through a revolution of electronic music destined for the dance floor.
With a visit to our basement in the near future, we delved through the enigmatic producer’s vast discography in an effort to investigate the continuous appeal and ingenuity of the artist and producer.
Fram (Hessel Audio)
This is the one that grabbed everybody’s attention. Fram and its sister track Iddy not only cemented Blawan in the aftermath of UK’s dubstep explosion, but also established the burgeoning Hessel Audio label. Hessel would eventually become a future tastemaker for the more progressive end of electronic club music as Blawan would move into the realm of punishing Techno.
Fram is one of those tracks and Blawan is one of those artists that came about at the end of the hype of Dubstep. The track is a testament to that era and the innovative forms of music coming out of London at that time at places like plastic people. The polyrhythmic percussion and alien sound sculptures didn’t sound like anything on the dance floor at that time. Moving to electronic music from behind a set of drums, you can hear Blawan’s inherent mastery of the rhythmic form in Fram. Between drum machines, and some live percussion, there’s an expressive approach that gave his largely machine music a human feel.
“A twitchy but muscular number bristling with hollowed out, ligneous beat,” John Doran from the Quietus described it. It veered on the abstract electronica realm, but fell well clear of the experimental as sound systems like that of Corsica Studios’ room 2 would attest at the time.
Building his tracks from the percussion up (a common theme in his music), Blawan created an intense and foreboding sound that conjured the mood of cinematic horror. “It’s funny,” Blawan told The Face in a recent interview, “every time I bring tracks from the studio, my partner says ‘why are you always writing stuff that sounds like it’s in a horror film?’ And to be honest, I’ve no idea…” It’s something that’s congruent in Blawan’s approach to dance music and something of a trademark of the artist’s sound, even today.
What you do with what you have (R&S)
It wasn’t soon after Fram and Iddy that Blawan started to gain recognition in dance music circles. He stood out amongst his peers for his innovative approach, infusing elements from diverse sources one his way to establishing a Blawan sound. Today he might mostly be known for that kind of brutalist sonic signature that he reserves for his own Ternesc imprint, but on his way to establishing that signature Blawan sound he stopped off at R&S with a record that fell deep for the lysergic impulses of Acid.
What you do with what you have is a snarling monster, bearing the grisly grimace of a 303 loop seemingly jutting out from the lacquer surface. Everything in this track has a percussive quality; from the drums to the galvanised plucks of the main melody. But it’s a vocal, repeating various snippets of the same sample at different pitch intervals, that lures the listener closer.
“Yes. What I really want I guess is to add a human, emotional touch to the track… rather than getting super in someone’s face like I used to!” Blawan said at the time. The vocal sample comes from that now infamous Red Bull Music Academy lecture with Moodymann. The main line, “it ain’t what you got, it’s what you do with what you have” is not only great advice, it also seems to offer some clue to Blawan’s philosophy to his sonic identity.
Blawan’s music doesn’t pander to the industry-approved sound palette. Although What you do with what you have is clearly an acid Techno record, there is more to the record than a couple of machines slugging it out. It builds on those reserved minimalist foundations of his early records, but it’s a sound that would be more at home at Berghain than at Plastic People.
Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage (Hinge Finger)
By the time What you do with what you have was released, Blawan was already courting the big rooms, even though not quite fully inducted into them. He would be no stranger to Berlin’s dark and intimidating Techno lairs, but at same time could still be found playing more intimate venues in London. By the time this next track came out however, it would propel Blawan towards a level amongst Techno’s top tier.
Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage was huge! It came at a time when music blogs still had some sway in the world, and when DJs were still breaking records on the dance floor, sometimes up to a year before they were released. Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage managed to court both factions and had everybody in a frenzy before it came out. By the time the record eventually was released it was already sold out everywhere… and I’m not exaggerating – Even today the popularity of that record has waned little with copies going on discogs for a hefty €50 and up.
“I was surprised at how it took off. And it scared me as well, if I’m honest,” Blawan told the Quietus at the time. “It was a direction I didn’t want to go in.” It’s rumoured that it started life as a joke, but by the time Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage came out the level of success it achieved was nothing to scoff at. Blawan had arrived at the mainstage!
That dark, brooding architecture is not only behind the title of the record, but also in the atmosphere of this record. The vocal; titillating and intimidating, only bolstered that appeal, and if you were a fan of electronic music around 2012, you’d have to be living under a rock, if this track didn’t reach you at any point. Perhaps its appeal lay in the simplification of Blawan’s polyrhythmic nature, but it didn’t distract from Blawan’s otherworldly sonic signature.
And just like that Blawan stopped releasing records. Directly after Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage, there came an hiatus in Blawan’s recording output. He left it on a high-note with that record. For those only arriving at his music however, it marked a career in its infancy and only left them hungry for more of the same, with his earlier records and their divergent sound hardly satiating the masses.
Citing health issues, which included a trip under the surgeon’s knife, Blawan was forced to take a break from the scene and take stock of his life in music going forward. His appeal hardly waned during his time away as records like Why they hide… were coveted by the discogs mania speculating for the future. Blawan’s music refused to fizzle out in the background, and by the time he did come back into the fray with a new record, a new label, and several new projects he didn’t just arrive back on the scene, but stamped a formidable mark on it with tracks like Talatone.
Talatone was the first cut from the first EP for his new label, Ternesc and it asserted Blawan’s return in a dominating and forceful Techno thriller. A more intimidating approach to sound design, Talatone is a functional monster that bears some comparisons to Why they hide… while foregoing that immediacy of the previous record. If Blawan was perhaps a Techno producer with associations on the wonkier spectrum of the genre before, Talatone picked no bones about being a Techno tool for any DJ with the stamina for this kind of music.
Talatone, Ternersc and Blawan’s return came at a time when Techno’s momentum just started picking up again towards a moment in the present when it’s one of the most popular music genres in the world today. Unsurprisingly it propelled Blawan on that same trajectory where his name and music have become synonymous with the genre’s modern vanguard.
As Bored Young Adults – Shy Dancers On Bungalowdorf Beach (Trilogy Tapes)
…and then for something completely different. This is Blawan on a divergent course again. Bored Young Adults is reportedly the alias he created for a style of music he made for home listening, but the one-time fooray into this realm is hardly easy-listening. Bored young adults arrived at a time of a massive creative spark for the artist it seems. The music he made between then and now has only strengthened the diversity of the artist’s sound. While his other side project with Pariah, Karenn was dedicated to peak time on a dark dance floor, Young bored Adults channelled those same formidable sounds towards after-hours and slower tempos.
A slow chugging track, Shy Dancers On Bungalowdorf Beach taps into that downtempo balearic feel while harnessing that element of foreboding that Blawan applies to his work. Elements float and glisten on a sea of ebbing bass that showcases Blawan’s prowess as a sonic auteur. That mood he creates through his records are never stagnant; they move with the progression of the track, which comes to the fore on this slower track and the other tracks from this record.
Judging from his shows with Pangea as Karenn and some snippets of interviews at the time, Blawan almost certainly fell in the rabbit hole that is modular synthesisers, and it took those minimal percussive sounds he relied on in earlier records to a new dimension. His textures developed and grew into cinematic creations, but remained focussed on that rhythmic pursuit, underpinning the artist’s work.
It’s curious why Blawan has never revisited this alias. There’s a lot of potential locked in those grooves, that could certainly have made for an interesting LP.
Tasser – from Wet will always dry (Ternesc)
Even though I’m of the opinion Bored Young Adults would’ve been a more intriguing LP project, Blawan’s eventual debut LP didn’t disappoint. It’s reminiscent of the classic Robert Hood LP, Minimal Nation in sonic character and in spirit. Not as bold as the EPs and the 12” from before, but retaining that elusive mood Blawan cultivates in his music, he channels it effortlessly into the domain of an album narrative while tracks like Tasser maintain that indestructible connection to the dance floor.
Even indie chin-strokers Pitchfork couldn’t help sing the album’s praises enough. “Wet Will Always Dry isn’t an album that will rewire dance music or revolutionize modern electronics, but at its best it succeeds in pushing against the expectations of modern techno, bringing vulnerability, warmth, and oodles of enchanting noises to a musical genre whose pursuit of the future sometimes seems to have gotten lost in po-faced respect for the past.“
I tend to disagree that there’s no connection to the past here. That Detroit influence is strong here, and I would even argue tracks like Fram were perhaps even more futuristic. But that’s not the purpose of a Techno record in the long format. It’s something that needs to capture the feeling of going from a club to lying on your living room floor, ears still ringing and head still spinning as you decompress, and Wet will always dry achieves that.
There’s something engaging in the sonic palette that borders on the intellectual without getting too contemplative and introverted while at the same time there’s no mistaking it for anything other than club record.
While Blawan’s success hit stratospheric proportions there was something that eluded those records even as he found popularity amongst the larger audiences. Those early rhythms he thrived in and what first drew us to Blawan as an artist, were starting to get subverted in the pursuit of Techno’s marching orders and familiar rhythm patterns.
Those polyrhythmic clatterings of tracks like Fram and Getting me Down (which actually deserves an honourable mention here) never quite truly found a place in the sonic world of Techno that Blawan cultivated since his return.
That has changed again over the last few releases on Ternesc and especially over on Blika, Blawan’s induction into the XL recordings family. In the context of the records that immediately followed it namely Make a Goose and Soft Wahls, Woke Up right Handed marks a shift in the artist’s output again with a return to those enigmatic rhythmic patterns that earmarked his earlier music, fusing it with that unparalleled sound he’s cultivated over the last 7 years.
“I’m trying to step away from spending one whole week making one modular patch,” he admitted in the quietus recently, and it seems to have taken him back to the more impulsive approach that dots his earliest creations.
Blika stutters and glides through the percussive realm as a tumultuous wave of noise and distortion crashes over each phrase. That sense of trepidation in his sonic texture seems stronger than ever as it limps through the progression, dragging menacing cantations through that harsh frequency band of human hearing.
Does it suggest yet another new epoch in Blawan’s career as an artist? It’s perhaps not as clearly defined as that shift after his hiatus, but there’s something there that in world drowning Techno, sets it apart from the rest of the noise. It’s something that has shadowed Blawan’s career the entire way through; whatever he applies his craft to, has an innate ability to stand out from the backdrop of the Techno genre.