With Gatekeeper, image is almost as important as music - they insist that the two aspects are equal, but this isn’t entirely true - and in the evolution of their covers, you can also see how their sound has changed. The EP that introduced the Chicago duo, released at the end of 2010 on the Merok label, “Giza EP”, was thoroughly 80s, with ZX Spectrum typography, a checkerboard shot worthy of “Tron” and the kitsch detail of the moon in the background, orbiting around a giant skull. The skull could be understood either as an homage to Jean-Michel Jarre’s “Oxygène” (a year later they would mix a song of Jarre’s in their podcast for Drowned In Sound) or as morbid reference to occult imagery, which they also resort to frequently. The latter arises from their origins as producers of something like an EBM revival, industrial dance music for cyberpunk bodies. “Giza EP”, although it had an Egyptian title – and was accordingly very esoteric, full of ancient mysteries and even a belief in spaceships - was really heavily influenced by A Split Second and Front 242, adapted to the same underground circuit as that of artists like Blondes or Laurel Halo: the cutting edge of the margins.
The cover of “Exo”, on the other hand, belongs to another era. It’s clearly 90s, it even looks like artwork from the Skam label for a Gescom album: some sort of device for tuning in, broadcasting, or storage - it’s not clear whether it’s a Mini-Disc, a radio, a fridge, a camera, a hard disk - with clean lines, grey colours and a watery look, as if it could be a space probe that had just landed in an ecosystem with plenty of water. The esoteric allusions exist, but they are blurrier. Even the title, “Exo”, which means “outside” in Greek, indicates that this is a work more open to the exterior, one that stares less at its own navel. The sound seems to have distanced itself from the EBM and industrial influence, to delve into another feature that one could already make out in Gatekeeper’s previous works: dance music, violent, psychedelic techno, with an acid rash and haunted textures. It’s extraordinarily indebted to that duo, popular two decades ago and forgotten today - somewhere between ostracism and indifference - that answered to the name of The Future Sound Of London. The influence is very direct in the way that “Exo” starts, with “Exolift” (after the intro inspired by those ads you see on the screen in "Imax" Cinemas). It is a very thinly-veiled, faithful and respectful copy of the most abrupt moments of albums like “Accelerator” (1991), especially “Expander” and “Moscow”, and of the “Tales Of Ephidrina” that they released as Amorphous Androgynous. Gatekeeper, therefore, simulate images of artificial flora growing at unimaginable speeds, digital landscapes of worlds impossible to imagine and a hallucinatory state produced by the frenetic, stormy pace of their rhythmic attacks.
Like The Future Sound of London, Gatekeeper understand music and image as an indivisible artistic whole. After “Giza EP”, they released six videos, one for each song, on a VHS cassette (“Giza: The HDvhs Experience”, under the direction of Thunder Horse). With “Exo” there is the idea of doing something similar and developing video clips for the entire album, although until that happens we will have to settle for the images evoked by passages like “Aero” – heavy break-beat, radically 90s – or the acid lashing that rocks “Hydrus” or “Encarta” as if it were the Romans whipping Jesus with their cat o’ nine tails. “Encarta”, incidentally, recovers the industrial influence and closes Gatekeeper’s own particular circle right at the end.
“Exo” is an album that is more hallucinatory than hallucinogenic and in spite of the above, it knows how to overcome its influences and find its own personality, somewhere between dropsy (all of it seems swollen, as if it had retained contaminating liquids that once in awhile escape in the form of unblocking interludes) and unrestrained dancing. A product evolved from the remains of the ruins of witch house, which transposes its feverish state of tossing and turning - it’s not hypnagogue, but rather a hallucination caused by a high fever - from grotesque 80s pop to the first violent techno of the 90s (include here CJ Bolland, Polygon Window and early Marc Acardipane as vague references that explain Aaron David Ross and Matthew Arkell’s current sound). But it doesn’t sound nostalgic, instead it sounds like a vague memory of music captured in flashes, listened to in a rave in the middle of a panic attack, and then later recreated in another moment of trance, channelled by black-outs. “Exo”: an electrical shock that goes directly to the epithalamus, a blessed short circuit.