17 March 2011

Sandwell District - Feed Forward

Sandwell District - Feed Forward (Sandwell District)

Despite being one of the biggest things to happen to techno for the past couple of years, Sandwell District's album has been strangely absent from the racks of our local record stores, was only pre-orderable on boomkat when I had no money, and is fetching around 80 bucks on discogs. However, a little bit of ingenuity (find a mate with a copy, persuade him to loan it), and a fair heft of work have put me in possession of the audio from this monstrosity. Admittedly, I'm lacking the gorgeous artwork from Silent Servant, and don't have the joy of holding a double-pack album and a 7" single in my sweaty little palms, but fucking hell, is this a beast of a package. Opening with the apocalyptic three-parter Immolaire, Sandwell drag the listener through a powerful mixture of pure percussion and beatless spaces, before giving us more melodic techno from Speed + Sound (a rework of Function's track from Sampler #1), robo-industrial battery from Grey Cut Out, and dried out, barren wastelands on both sides of the 7". As we've come to expect from Sandwell, it's hard-as-nails; full of mechanical crunch, jacking beats and ominous distortion in the high-end. This isn't the Millsian school of "Hit them hard, hit them fast" brutality though; synth swathes and distressed strings are offered up to tantalise the listener, but never break through with enough force, lurking behind walls of static and groaning bass to generate a crushingly empty feel. Even the Surgeon-esque Hunting Lodge, in all it's jacking glory, contains a definite sense of groove and rhythm that holds back from bludgeoning you to death.

It's a Berghain record, steeped in Berlin's technoid folklore and designed to be played in clubs where no-one really cares what day it is anymore, but there's a greater depth of influence showcased here, with nods to the industrial and post-punk sounds of Birmingham and Sheffield (Silent Servant's a big fan...), touches of Detroit's widescreen sensibilities and the type of crushing heaviness that belongs on a Khanate or Tribes of Neurot record. Sandwell make all these their own though, and the acid bassline that emerges through Hunting Lodge is pure Chicago; brilliantly bastardised and reworked as their own.

Definitely one of the most powerful techno albums I've heard in a long time; Sandwell have delivered their most complete manifesto to date and thrown down one hell of a challenge to the world. Feed Forward will remain important for years, though a repress seems unlikely, and a digital release is categorically not going to happen. I'll be treasuring this one.

Sandwell District Live Set
Sandwell District on boomkat

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