Anonymity can be a kind of calling card, and in electronic music, it often is. There’s a subset of producers who made their names, in part, by hiding their identities, at least at first; just think of John Talabot, or Redshape, or Burial. The popularity of that strategy, in recent years, has dovetailed with a design philosophy that emphasizes mystery over clarity. In certain record stores, it sometimes seems that the hand-stamped white labels with little or no identifying information outnumber, by a considerable margin, what I guess you could call “normal” records, where you have some semblance of an idea who made the thing. Underground techno, in particular, has developed a conspicuously sub-rosa aura, keen to convey the impression that all those slabs of wax had been recorded in secret, pressed up in some dank basement, and sold out of the back of someone’s car.
Once upon a time, though, before it became a shtick, facelessness was just par for the course in techno, a natural byproduct of the way the music was made and consumed—recorded by amateur producers, released by fly-by-night record labels, and spun in darkened rooms to audiences who probably had no idea what was playing at any given moment anyway. Just as importantly, techno’s facelessness had ideological aims; it was a reminder that the individual was less important than the collective.
The Dutch-born, Berlin-based DJ Steffi runs a hand-stamped white-label imprint herself, but I’m pretty sure that the title of her new album, Power of Anonymity, is meant to evoke the more romantic aspects of techno facelessness—both the privileging of scenius over genius and the idea that, as long as the music is good, it doesn’t matter what the name on the center sticker is; that when a DJ has earned the dancers’ trust, Shazam becomes unnecessary, because the moment itself is too precious to sacrifice for a paltry morsel of metadata. (As a resident DJ at Panorama Bar, Steffi understands this concept as well as anyone. The DJ booth there is on the same level as the dancefloor, and so it is entirely possible to spend hours in the crowd without having the faintest idea who might be playing.)
She has made an album equal to that ethos. There are no gimmicks here. These are club tracks, through and through—late-night techno that radiates a deep blue glow beneath its brushed-metal surface. It would be wrong to call them workmanlike—no one will ever mistake these for humdrum DJ tools—but they’re not exactly virtuosic, either; they go out of their way to sound like approximations of an ideal type, rather than expressions of individual genius. With the exception of “Treasure Seeking”, a springy electro-funk jam that takes inspiration from A Number of Names and Vanity 6, they’re all instrumentals, and their similarities tend to eclipse their differences. They all share the same minor chords and moody synth wash; their pieces seem largely interchangeable. On “Selfhood”, a little two-note bassline digs in its heels; on “Bag of Crystals”, it reappears as a mirror image, toggling up instead of down. The majority of the album’s cuts are paced somewhere north of 130 beats per minute. They can be gorgeous, and emotional, and even sentimental, but they’re not meant to be calmly considered from a safe remove—they’re designed to throw yourself into, with a serenely ecstatic kind of gusto.
The album, her second, is tougher, deeper, more nuanced, and more confident than her 2011 debut, Yours & Mine. Stylistically, it’s a fusion of classic Detroit and Berlin techno—the rich tones and pumping chords of the former, the dub-assisted exploration of space of the latter. There are echoes of Robert Hood and Basic Channel, as well as some of the high, lonesome ostinatos of DJ Pierre’s “Wild Pitch” style; there’s also a pronounced electro influence in “Bang for Your Buck”, “JBW25”, and “Treasure Seeking”, all of which are enlivened by a Drexciyan sense of snap and squelch. But nothing here feels throwback, merely timeless—an overused term that, for once, earns its place. Formally and technologically, any of these tracks might have been made at any point in the past 25 years. Her specialty is in creating streamlined arrangements consisting of multiple tonal parts that all interlock; no single one of them plays the lead, and there are rarely any melodies to speak of. Instead, they tend to move separately but together, in sync, rippling as naturally as the surface of a rain-dappled lake.
Those intricate mechanics betray the album’s key irony: it would be hard to imagine anyone but Steffi making this particular collection. Power of Anonymity is a masterclass in the sleight-of-hand that we call techno; there is virtuosity in the music’s very attempts to sneak past under the cover of darkness. It may pass unidentified, but it will not go unnoticed.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1tODjLu