Some people will, of course, find Datach’i’s sort of music difficult. Everybody knows that IDM, or Intelligent Dance Music, is a wretched label for it, and often an erroneous one, — you’ll either break something or go into shock trying to dance to some of these tracks — but the term does the job. Certainly it’s worthwhile to have a linguistic distinction wedged between Aphex Twin and your standard DJ Club Mix a la 1996 (steady throat bass, nasal 303 w/ cut-off slide), something to separate the Beatles of breakbeats from the Vitamin C’s of synth-cliches.
The term IDM was originally invented so that people could talk about Aphex Twin, who signs his Cornish tax returns as Richard D. James (middle name Dick). For years RDJ has occupied a part of the electric pond all to himself (cf. Selected Ambient Works II, RDJ Album, Come To Daddy and the Windowlicker EP). Arguably the only musician of comparable genius in this field is Amon Tobin, whose Supermodified came out last year and became an instant classic. You could also check out Autechre, a staple of the genre (Tri Repetae++, EP7).
There are a lot of different ways to define the kind of music we’re talking about, including the vaguest and probably most accurate, which merely champions its experimentalism and innovation. More specifically, the beats in these albums attain a fluidity unheard of in common techno, and this allows the percussion the freedom to interact with the melodic line, cutting in and out, subdividing, radically changing pitch, crossing over into a melody of its own, and slowing down, all as fits the song as a whole.
A good example of this is the track titled “Clown” on Datach’i’s latest release, Wearealwayswellthankyou, where the beat is something living and expressive — it has become a voice. It may even be fair to say IDM at its best explores an entire dimension of music that is often deemed incidental and almost wholly standardized by allowing an equally balanced interplay between autonomous percussive and melodic lines.
Wearealwayswellthankyou is only Datach’i’s second album, and he has already made his mark on the genre — twice. Datach’i’s signature is extremely frenetic and furious beat-layering that, if it is to produce a unified song, must be incorporated with the right melody in the right way — no small task. His technical mastery of crazy electric percussion was evident on his first disc, Rec + Play, which also produced at least two fully mature songs, “Leonard Park” and “Fried Notes.” In the latter the frantic beats and soft melody play with each other until uncovering a middle ground and merging into a chorus that is broken up, eluded to, recalled, hinted back at and finally dissolved.
The development from Datach’i’s first album to this more recent work is very exciting, and it sees him exhibiting more fully the abilities one could see emerging on the first disc. Thankfully, on Wearealwayswellthankyou Datach’i has let the ponderous and wholly unstructured drum frenzies of several tracks on Rec + Play give way to a greater attention to melodic texturing, resulting in a wider emotive variety.
“Cold Shift” captures the feel of a slightly surreptitious urban night walk that morphs into an elusive optimism. The beat stutters and dives as disparate notes reverberate like drops in a cistern. The snarerush and paranormal pitchbending of “Free In A Box” are enough to drive your average clubkid into an epileptic channeling fit. “Merrily We Roll Along” juxtaposes more schizophrenic drumming with an upbeat tune that makes you want to speed.
Instead of presenting a ubiquitous machine-gun fanfare, which at its worse is even more unbearable than an incessant bass kick, Datach’i is regulating his dynamics with more attention on this album, knowing when to ease up and creating some very evocative soundscapes. In “Falp(318) + 15 Degrees” the beat drops down at times to nothing more than an underground rumble, and the last track is a live cello and piano piece.
If Aphex Twin is the great-granddaddy of IDM, Datach’i is one of the upstarts to keep an eye on. (And he appears to be quite prolific judging from the less-than-a-year’s gap between the first two albums.) Datach’i has already shown that he has a bold and original voice that could bring electronic music to new levels. He has done this to some degree already, but one can expect even more radical achievements in the future. Coming from a very experimental approach, Datach’i has had quite a task in constructing a unified style. This difficult starting point will produce very interesting and revolutionary work as he continues to understand how to best handle the awesome force he is seeking in his music.
What we may finally be seeing is an American nascence in experimental electronic music. Within the past few years, Datach’i, Kid 606 and Hrvatski, all based in the States, have gained enough attention and acclaim to challenge the longstanding legacy of the UK’s gearhead wizards.