My first acquaintance with Emptyset – the experimental electronics project composed of Multiverse founder James Ginzburg (aka Ginz) and electronic artist Paul Purgas – was their “Demiurge” album last year. It was a swampy monster of an album that took the idea of beatless electronic compositions to places most people had probably never thought of before, and in the process acted as a refreshing change from the mind numbing dullness of a lot of dance music. With this in mind I’d assumed the project to be mostly focused on that end of things, turns out I was wrong (which could also be read as being lazy for not researching more).
“Trace 2005-2009” is a collection of previously released tracks from the Bristol duo, made between - you guessed right - 2005 and 2009. It is supposed to act as both a retrospective of sorts and an insight into the project’s foundations and current work. The album does both these things rather well, across eight deeply mesmerising productions that drag you down into their world, allowing you to surface for air only momentarily.
The music on “Trace” is minimal, stripped back to its core elements – driving beats, carefully crafted mesmerising melodies, warming bass – and composed in what feels like a very organic manner. It is almost as if the machines were taking over, which considering the duo’s interest in analogue gear and more unusual compositional processes may well have been the case. Opener “Acuphase” drops you in at the deep end within its first minute, with its sweeping bass, minutely detailed melodies and a rigid, tempo-keeping beat that still manages to feel organic.
Not being the biggest fan of techno – rap will do that to you – I’ve learnt in the last five or six years to appreciate some of its finer moments, especially on the minimal side of things, mainly thanks to the dub techno crossovers of artists like Rhythm and Sound in Germany, and Appleblim and Peverelist in Bristol. Emptyset’s music on “Trace” reminds me of this, though with a less obvious emphasis on the dub side of things. The music’s open and inviting to people such as me who may feel slightly recalcitrant to liking techno. Take “Seclusion”, which starts off with a pulsing bass line soon enough married to a driving drum pattern and the faintest of vocal invitation that utters “come on”, almost so quietly that it could act as a subliminal message – come on, don’t be scared to lose yourself in something like this. The album’s highlight for me is “Episteme”, another exercise in showcasing the sort of mechanistic simplicity that acts as the perfect counter argument to all the ‘electronic music has no soul’ rants. If the way that bass is brought in doesn’t make you feel anything, that’s probably because you’re dead inside.
With London and Berlin increasingly acting as points of focus in Europe’s merging electronic scenes, Bristol’s role on the edges - as an incubator for mutated strains of electronic and dance music - has perhaps never been as essential. As a retrospective, “Trace” is a great way into Emptyset’s body of work and also a timely reminder that there’s plenty of music we don’t always get to see and hear that is just as good, if not better, than what passes for the big thing in today’s increasingly noisy hype cycle. Long may it continue.