March 4, 2019
Released On May 6, 2016
Released By Med School Music
It seems understated to say that long-term relationships are complicated. We all grow up with experiences which define us. The way we interact with the world is emotionally chiseled into our personalities as permanently and irreparably as a river carves its path through solid stone. It stands to reason then that when you find someone with whom you have a certain connection that outlasts your various proclivities then there must be some overlap or coherence in how you approach things. Christine and Stefan Whestphal are a husband and wife team who make their living in the field of sound and noise production for both commercial and artistic purposes. This will come as a surprise to no one who happened upon their 2016 LP, Here’s To Them under their name Rawtekk.
From beginning to end, the album is a rich tapestry of dark, brooding, organic, and techno sounds which soothe as much as they upset. From every angle, it’s a manifestation of dichotomies and contradictions. It’s stark, yet rich. It’s upbeat and atmospheric. It’s simple at times and complex at others. It surfaces a funky groove and plunges into the dark sinister depths of audio despair. They came together blending Stefan’s aptitude for music production with Christine’s songwriting direction, and they’ve clearly used the push and pull of their own experiences to create an incredibly affecting record which covers ground from ambient to drum ‘n’ bass.
But let’s be honest — the same could be said of almost any drum ‘n’ bass or dubstep record from the last few years that deals in the sinister. It’s not difficult to make a bass synth snarl and drone anymore. The difference with this record in particular is the sweetness of Christine’s child-like vocal delivery playing like a lost child among the tall dark grass that Stefan creates in beats. When listening to “Aeons,” the melody rolls like watery cascades across the back of a gnarled snake. The hissing could be imagined as gentle sea foam making its way across the surface of a beach or being stared down by a dark, fork-tongued serpent from some dark imaginary place. There’s a strange urgency to the record which only breaks for the extremely powerful and more accessible “Harbour.”
Stefan doesn’t just demonstrate his prowess with rhythms and drum ‘n’ bass aesthetics, he absolutely kills it. He shows that he could play in the same fields as minimalist perfectionists like Homemade Weapons, Red Army, or Goldie, but the couple don’t stop there. With their combined creativity, the LP emerges as something beyond a simple drum ‘n’ bass record pounding out the same old breaks and liquid acid synths. Here’s To Them is a dark and scary beast which clicks, pops, and stomps into existence on “The Hatch,” and then winds up smashing everything you thought you knew with the audio violence of “Extinction“’s electronic wooly mammoth wail.
Best experienced on a system with some manner of sub-bass to deliver its murkier moments, the album would be an acquired taste for more pedestrian palettes. There are tracks you can dance to, but it’s not exactly a dance album. It’s value is predominantly in appreciating the nuance with which music — and more accurately, sound — can be used to convey not just emotions but the complex dynamics with which those emotions can interact. The booms, yawns, and thuds illustrate the expanse of the unknown, the turbulent, and the terrifying, while the pitched-up vocals and more organic elements of keyboard melody illustrate comfort, order, reason, and healing. Here’s To Them may not be the record you turn on when company comes to dinner, but it’s a work of art which, like many other great works, can be appreciated on its own terms as a new, innovative take on a somewhat tired genre. Here’s To Them is, in this music fan’s opinion, one of the most exciting new records in the electronic music genre in recent years and I’m excited to see what Rawtekk’s particular personal dynamics produce next.
And if none of that appeals to you, it still sounds absolutely epic cranked up on a car stereo.
Stefan and Christine Westphal — the vanguard of the neuro electronica scene, boldly pushing drum ‘n’ bass into the future.
I was a little surprised when I put on this Rawtekk album and heard some things that sounded suspiciously like drum ‘n’ bass, the techno offshoot that staked a serious claim on the electronic music scene in the ’90s. Surprised, because it hasn’t been very fashionable in recent years, although I never stopped liking my favorites of the genre, a few of which I gathered in a new playlist called DnBx10. While assembling that, I was happy to see Alex Reece’s So Far and Spring Heel Jack’s 68 Million Shades have now made to it Spotify, whereas a few years ago I was desperately buying used CD’s for spare change and giving them out to people to help preserve the music. So maybe the time is ripe for a reappraisal and it’s cool once again to employ densely programmed drums, including high-tech variations on the Funky Drummer break, seismic bass, and epic synth washes in creating your tracks. Bring it back, I say, but without the unhealthy amount of self-aggrandizement that came with the first wave, with every new record propounding to reinvent music as we know it. My copy of Torque, a fine compilation of songs on the No U Turn Records label, even had a label on it that said, “WARNING Contains ‘Technology’ Ed Rush + Nico.” I mean, it wasn’t that mind-blowing! But, perhaps even more surprising about Here’s To Them, the second album by the German duo of Stefan and Christine Westphal, is that it very nearly is that mind-blowing. If I were going to put a sticker on it, I might say “WARNING Contains ‘Vantage Point‘,” because that song is one of the best things I’ve ever heard that could reasonably called drum ‘n’ bass — and it came out in 2016, over 15 years after the genre’s heyday! It employs a familiar two-step rhythm, but uses drum patches that are richly physical, under which is layered a slippery seam of synthetic bass. Whooshing white noise, ghostly vocal choirs and all sorts of tricky rhythmic inflections keep you in suspense. It’s also tightly edited to a wise 3:32, instead of the seven-minutes-plus of many old-school examples. Rawtekk does have a gentler side, as on “My Love,” with its atmospheric keyboards, cello, and little-girl vocals proclaiming, “My love is yours and your love is mine.” But the brutal pummeling of the last three songs reaffirms the Westphal’s true natures as progenitors of a style made for underground raves in abandoned factories. Whaddya know — sometimes musical styles are better the second time around!
What a perfect way to follow up last week’s album. Mother Earth’s Plantasia and Here’s to Them are wildly different, and it’s fun to think about what their differences say about the eras in which they were made — the utopian curiosity of the 1970s vs. the anxious pessimism of the 2010s — but what makes them similar is even more interesting. Both are so focused on the future of sound. What would the Mort Garsons of the world have been doing in 1976 if they’d had access to today’s digital audio workstation technology? They’d probably have been doing something like what Rawtekk does. It’s not just that Stefan and Christine Westphal make music that feels futuristic — though that’s certainly the case. (Hectic tracks like “Aftermath” and “Harbour” presage the chaotic dystopia that’s almost certainly waiting on the other side of the Internet age, in contrast to chillwave-indebted tracks that offer a rosier vision. I keep imagining listening to “K.I.A.” on a maglev train with multiple moons rising in the background.) Beyond their own music, Rawtekk does what early synth enthusiasts were doing in the 1970s — creating a new musical language. In addition to making their own records and working commercially, the German duo develops sound libraries — tools other artists can use to make electronic music of their own. It’s a little like running a restaurant where you grow your own food, though a blacksmith’s shop might be the better analog. Elements melted down to their most basic form. Sparks flying every which way. Strange new implements being formed. Acts of creation that facilitate more creation. It’s an easy mental image to form when listening to Here’s To Them — gritty and intense, and way more pleasant to imagine than whatever’s coming when they turn the Internet off.
Let’s just start with some simple cheer: Here’s to Rawtekk. Here’s To Them is as rock solid of an album as is the Hamburg duo’s shared sense for a catchy beat. It wasn’t hard to spot this as a drum ‘n’ bass effort without any prior research, much the same way it’s not hard to spot a black cat in a white painted room. However, there’s a note of appreciable sonic restraint and playing of the middle ground in Rawtekk’s style thereof; it’s not as obsessively light, tappy, and tempo frenetic as say many of the artists with D&B famous Hospital Records (just take a listen to some of the fast hitters from the Forza 4 soundtrack), but the pair also doesn’t look to overwhelm with a bone-shaking amount of low-end rumbling. Yes, there’s movement at each end (the title track and “Restless” capitalize on heavy and nimble beats respectively) but overall, the record isn’t mapped out like a set-it-and-forget-it listening experience. Nor does the track list inflict whiplash by dramatically and continuously swinging back and forth between the two stylistic ends. One might believe drum ‘n’ bass is a genre that’s harder to create and clearly present tonal subtlety within but that’s another aspect of Here’s To Them, that Rawtekk does well. Tracks like “My Love” break the mold completely by providing melodically more nebulous space with soft tones both dynamically and in tone. The track feels almost ambient in its character compared to all the hard edges of digital drums. Similarly, “Aeons” unfolds with less of a strict sonic form or traceable rhythmic motif, but it also creates a bit of tonal focus with hard-edged, jagged synth tones (dressed with some delay and flange no less!) that brings out a gathering point for your ear between a more amorphous undercurrent and moderate patterings of drums that equate in intensity to hand percussion. In my mind, I see a smoky, relatively monochromatic canvas with intermittent splatters of color for each of those hits. Enough to be noted and seen, but not aggressively meant to force you along or distract from the something else that is the high register, delicate vocal happening throughout as well. The biggest contrast at play comes from the penultimate and final tracks, with “K.I.A.” lightening the mood through a studio-piano driven melody and lighter percussive beats, right before Here’s To Them puts all its chips on the table with a tone thick and dynamically unrelenting closer that at times teeters on the edge of being over the U.S. dubstep style line. I’d say this particular track placement and the choice to ultimately finish on such a severe note is a downside but the fact that the last 30 seconds of the track/album removes the percussive ferocity and winds down in a logical fashion, makes the last impression of Here’s To Them play out like a “best of both worlds” scenario and after such a musically diverse ~40 minute ride the classic fade out ending is a perfect cap to put atop a record you might not otherwise expect to be so stylistically multi-faceted, give its 2016 age. Then again, this is a pair of German electronica artists we’re talking about. Germany does electronica and it does it exceedingly well.
Showcasing pulsating glitches that curiously crack through the visual and sonic medium.
The following is an ordered list of thoughts and/or associations I had from listening to Here’s To Them. “The Hatch,” coupled with the album cover, makes me think of this Bill Burr joke about Burr seeing a creepy girl in a dream. Christine Westphal’s half-whispered vocal surely makes that connection even more accurate. The reality-dissolving title track and “Aftermath” bring to mind the word “nightmarish” and evoked Salvador Dalí’s The Disintegration Of The Persistence Of Memory. “My Love” and “Restless” sound like electric liquid, and while I don’t know what that means, I do know that it fits. Additionally, the latter and “Vantage Point” remind me of ‘90s big beat — particularly, the Propellerheads — which also happens to be the sub-genre that first got me into electronic music. “High” is the most appropriately named song here. It feels like you’re falling through clouds — like, you’re falling but you don’t care because you’re at peace. Meanwhile, “Aeons” might be the thoughts bouncing (floating?) around in your head during your freefall. “Walkabout,” perhaps because of the name, reminded me of this these two dudes idiot-dancing from Clerks II. The acceleration of “Harbour” is the soundtrack to the ten seconds of any action or horror movie trailer right before the title is shown where the images come at you faster than your eyes can process. “K.I.A.” makes death seem comforting – or, at the very least, inviting. Finally, “Extinction” seems like an excellent sonic representation of an airplane experiencing turbulence (apart from creaking metal, of course).
I often find myself reading something, and thinking “holy shit, this would make a great movie,” and then get preemptively angry at how badly this nonexistent film adaptation will invariably fuck things up. I don’t typically do fantasy castings for these movies, but I do love creating scores and soundtracks for them, often distracting myself while reading as I think of a song that would be perfect for a given scene. This week, I put on Rawtekk’s Here’s To Them, and gasped during the opening notes of “The Hatch.” For years, I have been trying to find an appropriate soundtrack to accompany Brian Wood and Rob G’s The Couriers series of graphic novels. Every time I’ve tried to push it on someone, I’ve described it as if John Woo decided to write comics instead of making action films, and that’s still the best way to get my point across. I re-read the first GN this week while listening to Here’s To Them, and it was exactly what my reading experience had been missing. I never would have made the association if it weren’t for OYR, so I’m pretty grateful for this week’s selection for giving me an excuse to revisit one of my favourite dystopian comic ‘verses.
50 Foot Pop Queenie
I started DJing in the tenth grade. At fifteen years old, I was already a well-trained hip hop connoisseur, steadily amassing my collection of vinyl; new and old. I pledged my allegiance to the “underground,” forsaking all those who dared to rock a shiney suit or platinum chains. One of my best friends at the time was also a DJ in love with “underground” music, but hip hop was only one small spec of his palette. While we shared many of the same musical heroes on the hip hop front, my buddy Julian’s main focus in DJing was drum ‘n’ bass, and an off-shoot subgenre called “jungle” that, at that moment in 1997-1998, was creating quite a stir in the musical “underground.” Let me make it abundantly clear, electronics music — DnB, electronica, trance, EDM, dub step, house, techno, jungle, whatever you want to call it — it’s not my cup of tea. Never has been. Never will be. I can definitely articulate why, but I fell like for this piece it’s completely irrelevant. But I say that to say this: although I am not a fan of these genres, my DJing experiences in the past taught me a great respect for electronic music. It’s difficult to program. It’s difficult to mix. And there’s a very specific time and place for this music, and it’s never your bedroom! So, I was very impressed by Rawtekk’s versatility on this album. They exhibit a wide-ranging skillset by dabbling in nearly every subgenere I mentioned above. The sound of the record is exceptionally “warm,” which can be a problem with electronic music because in the mix stage you’re often trading compression for warmth. Here’s To Them carries a misty darkness from start to finish, and it certainly helps to have the creepy, little white child cover art staring back at you for nearly forty minutes. If Moby’s projects are love letters, then Rawtekk’s should be suicide notes.
Though rooted in their DnB sound, Rawtekk charts its own path with bewildering vocals, mesmeric sequencing, and ambitious structures.
When I was a kid, my dad would play 200km/h In The Wrong Lane by t.A.T.u during long road trips, and by the time I was in middle school, that record had become a guilty pleasure of mine. Rawtekk’s Here’s To Them picks up on a few of the electronic dance vibes that t.A.T.u laid down in the early 2000s, but without all of the cheesy production and promotional gimmicks that were enough to make a thirteen-year-old who watches Naruto feel the need to hide his iPod screen on the school bus. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about in checking out this record, as the weird is purposefully weird, while even the more danceable, fist-pumping tracks hold experimental elements. I’m sure that the record’s relatively strict adherence to genre expectations led some listeners to turn up their noses at first listen, but when you take the time to map out the genre bending songwriting moments from start to finish, it’s easy to see that Rawtekk had lots of musical paths to explore in creating this album. I must admit, I preferred tracks like “My Love” and “K.I.A.” over the more driving, swelling electronic tracks, but it was nice to get a bit of exposure to a genre that I, myself, would usually shy away from. The vocals on this one reminded me of a style of quieted, whisper-like singing that’s very popular in the neo-soul genre right now. The lyrics of “My Love” are also beautiful in their simplicity, and when coupled with the minimalistic arrangement and atmospheric chords, make for the album’s emotional high point. Not only did this record get me thinking about how I might give more electronic music a try, but it also gave me a few good high-pitched frequencies to test my tinnitus against.
The past few weeks have been crazy, a roller coaster of emotions on all levels for me really. But I mean, I guess that’s life and things come up unexpectedly all the time, and all we can do is try and go with it, take what we can and move forward. I find what always helps me through is the music that I listen to, and I will admit my catalogue is large. Each of my personal playlists has about 800+ songs, but sometimes it’s not necessarily about the songs that I’ve heard before, and throwing this album into the mix this week was just what I needed. It’s slow and melancholy at times, but is also fast paced and upbeat. It’s a great album to play and to just let the music take over and not pay attention to anything else. And as someone who is always way too caught up in their thoughts, its nice to at least attempt to just let them go for a few minutes. Music has always been a kind of therapy for me, and I’m glad this album unexpectedly fell into my lap.
What a curious record, especially within the canon of Off Your Radar. Davy astutely compared this to the record we covered in Issue #150 and since it was only a week ago that we covered it, I must admit that my mind drifted to how Mort Garson would view this record, or conversely, how Rawtekk would view Plantasia. But that was more of an overview thought as I was editing and formatting. As I began to sink my teeth into the record, becoming lost in the endless loops and glitched out fills, I felt oddly drawn back to a record we covered over two years ago in Issue #48: A Heart Full Of Love by DARKPYRAMID. Both are electronic mysteries in their own right, and while DARKPYRAMID is more overt in stating there is a story that guides the tracks, Rawtekk feels more implied, like the sonic journey you go on through “The Hatch” to “Extinction” was meticulous, labored over for days in the middle of the night trying to make sense out of the unknown. Of course, the two records are extremely different. DARKPYRAMID goes more towards atmospheric sounds and vaporwave aesthetics, whereas Rawtekk is going full board with drum ‘n’ bass, with some industrial aesthetics popping up here in there. Sure, it can all be viewed under the ever-growing electronica umbrella, but the records couldn’t be more different in terms of foundation, influence, and direction. And in some ways, they do sound like night and day of the same philosophy; DARKPYRAMID offering something intimate to travel with as the sun rises and falls, while Rawtekk illuminates a night sky with its fantastical mystery. But I’m more fascinated by the moments when these records meet in the middle, cutting through the time, location, setting, and influence of their sound to show that all electronica inherently carries the same spirit, even if you go about different ways to examine and flesh it out. But even without the prior exposure to DARKPYRAMID, I would still label this record as a curious one, with its almost resolute dedication to a subgenre, while also looking for ways to stretch and bend it to fit their own artistic growth.
Music For The Texts Of Ishmael Reed by Conjure
Chosen By Jeremy Shatan