Robot Koch Robot KochSongs For Trees And Cyborgs
When all the fish are sold, and when you know that out there loads of people are waiting to steal your wallet while you’re watching whatever they’re performing, you have to choose carefully and intelligently what sounds and moods you’re going to create. You wouldn’t want to be taken for some smarty-pants who takes advantage of the zeitgeist and the weakness of others. The new instrumental hip-hop –call it wonky, call it new beat, heck, you can call it Art Vandelay, I don’t care– is an overstuffed turkey that is starting to show cracks in its skin. It’s becoming impossible to contain all the stuffing that’s started to accumulate inside a movement that started out as a delicatessen but now looks more like a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket full of wings. I’m saying this because I’m happy to see there’s still some heads out there with new dishes on offer, even if they are made with all the usual ingredients. That’s quite a challenge.
Robert Koch didn’t jump on any bandwagon. He has been trying to tune it to his liking, revolving a viscous mass of glitches, freak beats, IDM and dubstep with a cadence and dynamic of their own. The Berliner has plenty of platforms to do so. We can find traces of him in the trio Jahcoozi, enjoy his Robots Don’t Sleep imprint, and listen endlessly to his debut “Death Star Droid” LP and his various EPs. The style is certain. As easy as it is nowadays to associate names and uncover influences, we find ourselves here with this second album, a complicated collection that confidently dodges comparisons and shows itself as some kind of independent republic of beat-making, without Californian affiliations or anything else of the kind. Koch has made the term “barefoot” (a confusing label for the new bass mutations) his own, and rightly so, and established a parallel dimension of cybernetic groove that distorts the senses.
The weight of dubstep is notable on the more smouldering and nocturnal tunes. “Powerstrip 66”, with its intermittent synthesisers, cetacean bass lines, echoes and distortion, is clearly in debt to the Croydon lot. And the reverb and phantasmagoric atmospheres of “Water And Solutions” evoke the excruciating coldness of urban (and stoned) sounds of London ghettos. It’s a fact: when it comes to spectral, cold-sweated beats, Koch is the infallible master; his sordid stories written in blood on Ableton are a winning card in a songbook containing hardly any imperfections.
In this tessitura of wonky metallurgy, Koch surrounds himself with an extravagant universe that is a cross of science-fiction, cosmology, soundtrack music and horror films. Without the gore, though. Without intestines. Everything he does breathes a production elegance and finesse for which many would kill. There’s the emo-minimal psychedelica of “Patience”, the industrial beat of “Late Introduction”, the unnerving “Night On Mars” (hip-hop, crooked violins and laser beams), and the hypnotic effects with vocal samples of “Threats” – top notch disco, IMHO. The German is also unafraid to show some muscle to those who laugh at his biceps: he’s down right scary on “Break The Silence”, an atrocity that could be labelled as hardcore dubstep metal. If you listen to it on your headphones, hold tight because your heart could just jump out through your mouth. But it’s not all heavenly music. The Robot loses impact when he introduces vocals, as we can hear on “Atari You” –great Dilla beats, with a touch of goth, but tiresome lyrics and warbles, “Verbal Bruises” (which stinks of Portishead) and “Brujeria”, with that Café Del Mar-like female vocal. On this record of monolithic beats, android digitalism and infectious wonky, total abstraction is the only way to get to the bone. Vocals are for the opera. Apart from these three small gaps, “Songs For Trees And Cyborgs” rise before us with an overwhelming aura, as a force capable of folding us backwards like smoking papers and leaving us with our ears seriously marked with saw-tooth scores. Fin-de-siècle music for the beginning of the century.