Every time we hear the name Photek we should kneel down and pay our respects. Yes, the man has had his quiet moments, production-wise; he even disappeared from the map for a brief period of time: lost in Los Angeles, disoriented in a music circuit he didn't understand and that didn't need him, losing time trying to make soundtracks and hip-hop, with no success. But the weight of history cannot be denied, and if we take stock on the past 20 years, Rupert Parkes is definitely one of the greats. His name makes one tremble. For those who lived the drum'n'bass explosion, his early years are legendary; a beat scientist, an alchemist of oppressive atmospheres, his rhythms and textures became expressionist nightmares and labyrinths, reaching their peak on the indisputable masterpiece, “Modus Operandi” (1997). After that, things changed with “Solaris” (2000), a turn towards dapper house and techno. It caught those who hadn't yet heard some of his earlier EPs off-guard – works like “T-Raenon” (1996), already drenched in the cosmic abstraction of Detroit and revealing Parkes as the chameleon of that thing they call club music. However, the past decade was tough: drum'n'bass became rubbish, an unbearable pile of reiteration and stagnation, and Photek couldn't find his place. “Form & Function Vol 2” (2007) was simply weak. He had to either reinvent himself or disappear, but as it turned out, his reinvention - poor and hardly worth mentioning - almost catapulted him into oblivion.
Nevertheless, it was hard to forget Photek, and when the pale and freckled man returned in 2011, he did it with a vengeance. Protected by Pinch, he entered the dark realm of Tectonic and released “Closer”, his unique vision on dubstep. As asphyxiating as his best work of yore, it showed that slowness and pulmonary pressure are right up his street. He reactivated Photek Productions, started to release singles - calmly and with confidence, backed by the new school (Boddika, FaltyDL) - and his contribution to the “DJ-Kicks” series is the epigraph to a just and much-awaited comeback. The tracklist was confusing at first; it wasn't quite clear if the set was going to be about frivolous house (Daze Maxim, Guy J, Arnaud Le Texier), ill-contained vanity (many tracks are his), or if it was going to be a potpourri of post-dubstep sounds. But, as they say, we mustn't judge a book by its cover. It's not the separate ingredients that count, it's the way chef Photek cooks them, and, although it's not ElBulli material (he's not reinventing the formats), the result is worthy of a Michelin star.
The idea, says Photek, is to capture the greatness of the classic mixes; those you used to get for free with Mixmag, on cassette, signed by Doc Scott or LTJ Bukem. He wants to open minds, like those mixtapes did, with mosaics of muscled rhythms and bass lines like tendons, always oozing freshness. That's how this album begins: heavy and solemn. His own album opener “Azymuth” is even a bit exaggerated, but he quickly plays a winning card: Kromestar's “In 2 Minds”, which is something like the dubstep troglodyte's answer to the cinematic post-dubstep of dBridge on his single “Love Hotel”. Immediately, Photek submerges himself and the listener in the mix, unravelling it with surgeon-like precision, getting to the absolute bottom of it. Of course, with today's software, anyone can make 19 tracks sound like a solid whole, and Photek is sequencing the beats like he were making concrete. But it's the narrative (something you can't learn in two days) and, most of all, the mood he sets, that make all the difference. Rupert knows when to take a turn and lower the volume, he knows exactly when to start a new track, when to merge the synthetic textures that glow like neon lights, and when to let the rhythms circulate like they were on the avenues of Tokyo in the wee hours of the morning.
The first part is hypnotic: almost bordering on downtempo, letting the distant bass lines (very Burial-like, if Burial were Japanese) mark the gentle pulse. The acid outburst of “M25FM” (a new track by Photek and Pinch) and Baby Ford + Eon's classic “Dead Eye” - one of the highlights of British intelligent techno - mark the start of the second part of this trip. Leaving the city at night behind, he emerges into the clean air of the dawn, using all the clichés of Detroit without making it sound like a cliché. The third and final part is a return to solid ground; a new immersion in mouldy bass lines, rough, tear-producing beats and nocturnal depression after almost mystical euphoria - before reaching for the sky one last time with Spealcure's “Taking You Back”. Photek's “DJ-Kicks” is actually a new school mix about the lost feeling of the old one: going out at night, alert and saving energy, then the ecstasy, the slight return to reality, a moment of confusion, depression or paranoia, culminating with a decisive reprise (as an indestructible memory now) of that feeling of happiness one takes to the grave - which is when the synthetic strings of the exciting “The Art Of Nothing pt. 1”, by Parxe & Grincheux, pinch you. Yes, Photek is back, and his balm is miraculous; it makes you twenty years younger.
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