“I’m an old punk,” Lena Willikens told Germany’s Groove magazine last year. “For me, everything needs to have edges, corners and rough surfaces.” To that list, I’d add frayed wires, tarnished metal, and greasy ball bearings: whatever the Cologne DJ pulls out of her bag, from contemporary dance music to krautrock B-sides, tends to sound like it’s been salvaged from a scrap heap. Maybe that battered, lived-in quality is related to the fact that everything she plays also needs to have a story—or at least, it tends to have one by the time she’s done with it.
For her monthly Radio Cómeme show “Sentimental Flashback”, Willikens puts together astonishingly diverse selections around themes both idiosyncratic and hyper-specific. One early show spotlit “the dark side of my record collection, focusing on the time period between ’77 and ’84”; she has gone on to make tributes to female electronic music pioneers like Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram; West African music from the ’70s; minimal wave and post-punk; and cosmic disco, redefined. (“Do you remember? Some years ago there was a cosmic disco revival,” she asked at the outset of the program. “That time I asked myself what is cosmic? After listening to Baldelli’s mixtapes, I think I’ve got the idea: play emotional, and fuck genre borders. I like that idea.”) And while her club sets may not be as rigorously thematic, they are said to be every bit as daring; her residency at Düsseldorf’s Salon des Amateurs has contributed to its reputation as one of dance music’s most progressive venues.
Phantom Delia is Willikens’ debut EP. Co-produced by Matias Aguayo, it’s in line with the aesthetic of his label, Cómeme—dark but playful, modestly mid-fi but full of attitude—but this is clearly Willikens’ show. She may have released little of her own music before now, but her aesthetic arrives fully formed. There are multiple inspirations audible here, but they all revolve around primitive electronics: there are the rudimentary thuds and drones of the early synth-pop known retrospectively as “minimal wave,” and there’s the sultry machine sex of groups like Detroit’s A Number of Names, of the foundational proto-techno single “Sharevari”. Towering above both styles is the figure of Delia Derbyshire, the record’s presumable namesake, whose pioneering work for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was enormously important in popularizing early electronic music. (Renowned for both her technological and artistic acumen, Derbyshire, who died in 2001, is also remembered as a feminist icon: upon graduating college, she applied to work at Decca Records, only to be told that they didn’t hire women. That her music would go on to become so universally known, even if her name was not—who hasn’t heard her theme for “Dr. Who”?—feels like vindication, to say the least.)
“Howlin Lupus” opens the record on an ominous note, as foghorn bleats tangle with wolf howls over typewriter clatter and minor-key throb. It’s got it all, really: a danceable beat, a widescreen sense of drama, and rich, resonant sonics evocative of copper wires and glowing tubes. On “Nilpferd”—that’s German for “hippopotamus”—detuned oscillators buzz and squeal while monotone muttering dissolves into deadpan laughter; it sounds like a bad trip in a concrete bunker, a real Cold War hangover. Her sound design comes to the fore on “Asphalt Kobold”, in which plucked tones thumb-wrestle with synthetic mouth harp. At the center of it all, a glassy bauble of a rimshot sound stands out as if presented upon a velvet pillow; it suggests coldwave aesthetics as a pinnacle of electrical engineering, a feat of design comparable with Braun’s legendarily sober, streamlined gizmos.
“Mari Ori” is all hopped up on Halloween vibes; wind whistles through the cracks of its drum programming, and the tremolo lead shivers as though terrified. (It comes as no surprise to learn that Willikens also plays Theremin.) Even on her clubbiest tracks, her touch is distinct from virtually everyone else working in dance music; it has to do with the way she uses drums as accents rather than pulse-keeping devices. That’s especially true on “Noya Noya” and “Howlin Lupus”, with their stumbling kick drums and stabbing white noise. She’s also got a real way with counterpoints, which she braids like pliable icicles, each strand chillier than the next—well, unless thawing’s your chosen metaphor, in which case look to the slow dissolution of the beatless closing track, “Phantom Delia”, a steady stream of sawtoothed frequencies seeping deep into the firmament. It is, after all, a kind of roots music—simply of a revisionist strain, bearing a mutant fruit that’s been decades in the making.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1zBFIRv