As there will no doubt be at least 80 credible reviews of the 800 copies of the Convextion album, I’ll try not to focus so much on what makes each track essential to the album (and it is an album proper) as what makes Gerard Hanson so compelling to the core of the techno scene; what makes him one of the few who can sell out an initial pressing before it is released, even after a four-year hiatus under this guise. In my mind that is the thing that’s worth writing and reading about at this moment. People don’t need convincing to buy his music once they hear it, and clips are available everywhere. But in a time when labels, distributors and shops are closing left and right, why is it that one quiet and genial fellow from Texas can attract so much attention when so many artists and labels are struggling? In short, is this merit or hype? This is what the unconvinced and unaware are asking themselves, and what I hope to answer in words (however difficult that is).
It will have been said over and over that in Gerard’s music there is always a preoccupation with reverb. He uses delay much more than most and tends to get away with it remarkably well. But to reduce his impact on the techno world to his use of reverb Basic Channel style would be to disregard everything else he is doing. Perhaps 10-20% of the final result will have been basicchannelised in the aggregate, which will of course appeal to fans of that sound, and most techno fans full-stop (and this is of course not a criticism of him, given that he has been fulfilling the prophecy of that sound since it generated). But lost in this narrow reduction is the fact that he’s still got a very normal (if not exemplary) techno arrangement underneath, and often 2-3 times as much going on at any given time, or just as much variance horizontally. What is superlative is that he manages to do this without clutter, incoherence or regrets about any part of an evolving track being superior to the rest. In short, he succeeds. In my mind there are four essential ingredients to this success that set him apart from his peers:
A) His arrangements are always ambitious. While there are some people who succeed as well as he does at making their arrangements work, and there are many people who try to do as much as he does, there are very few who merge this ambition and execution as well as he does.
B) While this may seem like a statement of the obvious, when his efforts in total are added up, and everything can still be picked out so cleanly in the mix, it is nothing short of a miracle. His production skills can’t be faulted, and the pressing of his new album at D+M will only help to justly solidify this reputation.
C) Synthesis is perhaps the most overlooked ingredient in what makes Convextion what it is, and probably the one thing that distinguishes him most from Basic Channel (to unfairly extend the comparison). In nearly every track he is deploying sines, squares, pulses and saws in exactly the right spots, and always tweaking their character throughout, as though the arrangements require it, although 99.9% of producers and listeners would be perfectly satisfied without these extra touches. None of these sounds are essential, but we always know that if it weren’t these sounds, he’d make another equally compelling sound to take its place, and it would work just as well in the mix overall. There aren’t many producers who can impart this comfort in sound design. It is always extensive and almost always right. This is expert synthesis.
D) The one thing that is probably overlooked even more than sound design is composition, which is always impeccable. Given obvious skill in these other areas, many producers would mail in the actual writing of music, which is of course one of the most compelling ingredients in the appeal of Convextion, if shrouded within his many other successes. The key is that he is one of the few who have mastered this totality of making techno, yet still continues to challenge us with the individual melodies that get wrung through these other disciplines. This is probably the most commendable facet of his genius.
Put this all together and you have the techno record buyer’s hysteria we’ve seen in the last month of anticipation of this release. It has been a long time coming. I really hope everyone gets a copy. It does not disappoint. This can only raise the bar for quality in techno – which is not to say it’s the best album evarrr, but in terms of ambition, imagination, coherence and execution it’s hard to see how it can’t be one of them. I don’t know if those are the standards we should use to judge techno, but if they are, it’s certainly one of the top 10. Evarrr.
I can almost imagine people fighting for early slots at parties, in order to guarantee that they can be the DJ who drops these tracks first. Surely this is an hallucination, but it makes me think the album could be renamed “Music to Make People Show Up Early”, and not be wrong. I need to go listen to it again.