To understand just how fertile and exciting electronic dance music’s avant-garde has been in recent years, look no further than Andy Stott’s Passed Me By and We Stay Together. Released last year on Modern Love (currently one of the movement’s most exploratory imprints), the sister albums have redefined heavy within the context of dark techno. Swathed in gray-matter decay, their gargantuan grooves lumber, churn and throb in ways that are utterly novel. Yet archetypal, too. It’s as if the Manchester-based producer and DJ somehow synthesized the boiling, primordial stew from which the long-extinct ancestors of industrial music, psychedelic funk and sludge metal all had sprung.
This universal quality, peculiar but alluring, helped the records transcend the techno scene. Just about anybody into loud and intense music soon scrambled to grip copies. Even the subdued Pitchfork types were reading about the guy’s striking sounds.
“It was a big surprise for me how well those releases were received,” admits Stott, who is playing a smattering of North American gigs this autumn. “I had no idea they would pave a path for me to go ahead and really take things further. It’s still surprising to meet people from completely different scenes who are into those records.”
Now it’s time for the highly anticipated follow up: Luxury Problems, which Modern Love is set to drop Oct. 29 (just two days after the musician’s appearance at this year’s Moogfest). If preview track “Numb” is any indication, the album finds Stott augmenting his patently dubby sound with arrangements that are more chiseled and carved. There’s a palpable tension between his crushing beats and a newfound ethereality and meditative splendor.
“It’s as pile-driving as both We Stay Together and Passed Me By, but only in places,” explains Stott. “There is a slightly smoother feel — only slightly, though. There’s also more beauty. That’s due to Alison Skidmore’s voice. She was my piano teacher from when I was about 15 to 16 years old. Alison put down the vocals on the majority of the album’s tracks.”
Radical mutation always accompanies authentic artistic evolution. But what hasn’t changed on Luxury Problems is Stott’s hermetic flavor, reflecting his insular music-making process. This is an attribute he shares with labelmate Demdike Stare. Together, they’ve crafted a vision for dark techno whose shadowy and foreboding qualities clearly come from a very personal space.
At the same time, both artists feel strangely haunted by Manchester’s deep wells of dystopian gloom; after all, they hail from the very city that birthed Factory Records. “We’re all just doing our thing, and it just so happens that there is this thread running through the material,” he says. “It’s like none of us are not happy until a track or sound makes you reel back and scrunch up your face, as if to say, “What the f—k is that?”