Signing for an important label is a double-barrelled gun. On one hand it guarantees the artist extraordinary media-exposure and, in general, according sales. But there’s also the risk that the effort will be swallowed by the brand; that the name of the label is more important than the actual production.
There’s no doubt that these days Raster-Norton is an important label. Maybe too important: whether or not it coincides with the stylistic guidelines of their mentors –which in itself is absurd already, as the works of Alva Noto, Frank Bretschneider and Byetone have little in common– to each release on the label the tag “Raster sound” is immediately used. And although that could be very useful to the thousands of sons of San Carsten Nicolai (Grischa Lichtenbergei, Pixel, Kangding Ray, the rejuvenated Aoki Takamasa), to other, like Jens Massel, alias Senking, the favour is very small. In spite of “Pong” being his fifth release on Raster-Noton, Senking’s sound still doesn’t fit such a wandering category. Which, without it being good or bad, could turn out to be completely counterproductive for its author, given the context, as the public that would pick it up to start with is probably looking for other types of sounds. Like on “List” (2007), “Tap” (2003) and “Forge” (2002), on “Pong” space prevails over minimalism, the broad stroke over the hardly perceivable. Few clicks and fewer cuts will be found here. What can be found however, are bass lines imported from dubstep, epic ambient poetry, dub foundations, strong nineties references and a lot of reverb.
Yet unfortunately, the exceptional nature of Senking’s sound within the Raster-Norton frame is not synonymous with an exceptional record. Everything on “Pong” sounds old, like it’s already been done too many times and, worst of all, like something others have done better. To be clear: this is not a bad record at all. But to be exact is not enough to stand out between the new releases flooding the market every day –although, the way things are these day, maybe we should change that term for “scene”. And in that aspect, we get back to the Raster-Noton phenomenon. Because had it been a different, less notorious label who had released this album, we wouldn’t even be talking about it.