Area AreaWhere I Am Now
If you haven’t been down to the catacombs of American techno in recent years, you probably won’t be familiar with Area’s name. Like DVS1 until not long ago, his work has remained hidden in exquisite limited-edition albums, protected by labels with little distribution in Europe – such as Steadfast (Brendon Moeller’s company), or his own platform, Kimochi. Areas which are in the spiritual preserve of the most incorruptible techno, like that made by Echospace, Jus-Ed, or DJ Qu. His work is neither dispensable - on the contrary, it’s a treasure yet to be dug up - nor is it scarce. Not counting this album on Wave Music, his works pressed to date total nearly 30 remixes and close to ten EPs (including “Burning Mercury”, the only one signed as Lightness, which is his joint project with Brendon Moeller). Yet Area’s music is a treasure that still shines with a dim light, because it hasn’t been heard by enough admiring ears. “Where I Am Now” has taken nearly six years to arrive, and it has finally materialised thanks to the tenacious insistence of François K - who has personally selected and sequenced the songs, taken from earlier records, with a fatherly dedication.
Little is known about Area, the person. He lives in Chicago, where he has a radio program on WNUR, and he has used the alias m50 to DJ and to communicate, although Area is the name that he has ended up choosing as the main one (and we’ll have to use it until his real identity is revealed). What is known is his style: raw, economic in the use of sounds (but never skeletal), reminiscent of different phases and important artists of the minimal continuum of the last 20 years, from Maurizio’s “Ploy” (1992) to the present - a present which could also be represented perfectly well on this album, built with undeniably high-quality materials. In a strictly aesthetic sense, “Where I Am Now” sounds like a measured, unhurried summary of minimal: “Palindrom”, to give an off the cuff example, reminds one of both Ricardo Villalobos’ “Dexter” in its hypnotic packaging (the bass line has a similarity that may be more than coincidental) and of Basic Channel’s seminal “Phylyps Trak”. “Cellicos” seems like a live improvisation - extended over seven minutes - on the coldest, most crackling part of Isolée’s “Beau Mot Plage”. It’s an idea that is taken up again on “Ilpod”, towards the end of the album. Area has allowed his sound to mature over half a decade of evolution, arriving at a sound that is reflected in history. There are traces of Swayzak, snd, and Recloose - according to whether he opts for more muscular compression, chooses to force his experimentation or to raise the temperature with inevitable forays into deep house - but at the same time, it feeds from less hackneyed ideas.
One thing that Area never does is give in to haste. He never gets carried away by the drum, never loses control of the music; he knows where he should lead it and he does so with a firm hand, like a rider who understands his horse perfectly. He chooses the path, not the other way round, and this is why he always sounds so cerebral. At points it’s even reminiscent of early Autechre - “Basscadet EP” and “Tri Repetae” - whom he alludes to almost directly in “Cecentric”. In Area, there isn’t that rhythmic abandon, that hypnotic drift that shunts you into an eternal loop (like the ones on the releases in the Maurizio series). When there is, it’s hardcore, straight to the point - like on “Mass Conserved”, which sounds like an electro album released at the creative peak of the Playhouse label or one of Mathew Jonson’s, with samples of electric piano spread out over a broken, powerful rhythm.
But what is lost by making the DJ’s job more difficult is gained in the richness of nuances. When all is said and done, this album was put together by François K using Area’s best work precisely to be listened to at a stretch - on long night-time road trips, or skulking round the sidewalks of a big city in the wintertime. We could wrap up by speculating that Area is offering a shot in the arm for 2012 techno with “Where I Am Now”, but that would unfortunately not be telling the truth: this material is neither new, nor will it reactivate the popularity of more mental techno. Its merit - and it is not an insignificant one - lies in bringing ideas that had been dormant or poorly disseminated back to date, giving them a sudden shake so that they wake back up again. The album is an ideal way of reconciling oneself with the pure, exploratory techno that real fans always know how to appreciate and applaud, in 2012. Area = respect.