They call ’em “music making sculptures”, I call ’em robots.
It’s in no way peculiar to electronic music that most artists fail to find ways to stay fresh. It may seem an apt critique due to the reduced bureaucracy between making music and getting it in to the hands of music buyers, but this again maintains in all forms of underground music. Prolific artists can be found everywhere. Some like Madlib find ways to marry that output with impeccable quality. However, he’s blatantly an exception that proves the rule. Point being, it can get difficult to overcome the cynicism that builds up when once-adored musicians seem to lose the plot. I’m by no means the most cynical music buyer I know and I made a conscious effort to put my open mind where my ears are with this last shop, revisiting many of the artists I’ve lost track of over the years. What came of it? Mostly disappointment with a few nice surprises – so not a lot different than any other arbitrary segment of what I sought.
Having said all this I think it will be clear how refreshing it is to see Mark Pritchard reinvent himself yet again as Harmonic 313. As part of Reload, Jedi Knights, Secret Ingredients and Global Communications (with Tom Middleton) and as Link and N.Y. Connection solo, he was responsible for a huge swath of my favourite ’90s house, techno, electro and ambience. Then they suddenly fell off the map towards the end of the ’90s. A couple of years later he re-emerged as Troubleman on a downtempo/broken tip, which was nice stuff but not really that exciting. When you stack up the breadth and consistency of his work in the 90s; when you consider what he’s been doing relative to the route that Tom Middleton’s taken; when you consider that the Troubleman stuff was yet another new style to add to those he’s mastered and when you consider that most people would just repeat a “working” formula ad nauseum, he was doing alright in my book. I just wasn’t blown away.
Last year Harmonic 313 arrived. I loved Dirtbox and with the addition of When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence I was sold. At face value Harmonic 313 sounds like the new school of post-Jay Dee stumbly massive-bass synthetic hip hop like Flying Lotus – which ain’t exactly wrong, but probably insufficient. There’s a great deal of musicality that isn’t typical in hip hop and while the template would be this new style of hip hop there’s loads of more traditional music merged therein. Dirtbox clearly owes a debt to dubstep, No Way Out almost sounds like a resonant analogue take on slow Detroit house, Word Problems is pure Speak and Math sinister analogue hip hop, Battlestar is hip hop for MC’s sake, Flaash squeezes the Harmonic 313 sound in to an early Chicago house context and the rest of the album seems to bring the Warp heyday up to date, tapping in to Boards of Canada or Plaid styles with some simple but beautiful baselines that lend themselves perfectly to the size of his base.
If this weren’t enough, I highly recommend his remix of DJ Mujava’s Township Funk, which hints at how Harmonic 313 could squeeze itself back in to the Global Communications and Jedi Knights sounds of old. The baseline is pure dub and the beats are basically house but this track can’t be pinned down as any one thing other than a master’s synthesis of multiple styles in to a new, perfectly sensible thing. It’s brilliant. Mark Pritchard is back (if he was ever really gone).