A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Thrusters, the debut LP from Ramp Recordings’ Nochexxx, is an analogue soundworld of neon lasers and phosphorescent manowars in Zero G. It’s a world of Mexican ghettos and Trap Clubs and bad late-night cable, high on Pez. Like a cross between Sam Pink‘s Rontel and Masters Of The Universe, Thrusters blanks, blinks, and then blasts off into orbit.
Nochexxx is an MPC architect from Cornwall, part of the electronic cavalry seeking to save electronic music, one rubber pad at a time. He is part of a rising tide of rough-hewn, handmade, hardware electronics. But where Hospital Productions hisses and spark, and Downwards sinks like a depth charge, Thrusters glides along in a frictionless state. Because Nochexxx’s machines are so elegantly crafted, so nuanced and detailed, they are nearly perpetual motion machines.
When working with electronic music, you could (rather reductively) break things down into two camps: those working with ‘live’ samples, which tend to have a loose, lopsided feel, and are often referred to as ‘headnodding’, and those locked to the grid, which have a machinelike, infinite groove. And while it might seem, and is often said, that the loose and organic would be the funkier of the two, the diamond-fine regularity of repetitive beats allows for infinite variation and fine-tuned control, letting the performer really ROCK the crowd. They’re like incredibly detailed mechanical ballerinas; not entirely lifelike, nor are they trying to be, but awe-inspiring in their mechanical grace beauty.
I first became aware of the possibilities of robot funk and fine sequencing a few years ago, when i saw Atom TM open for Monolake in Boulder, Co. This 45 year old gentleman in a suit, with two small boxes on stage, a 303 and a 909 i think, bludgeoning these 20 year old kids stupid, with endless intricacies and variations. A lot of people mistakenly think of ‘straight’, quantized music and square, sterile and soulless, and Nochexxx, and some of the other recent Hardware Ninjas, are dispelling that myth, and offering another pathway to peace between the machines and the wetware of our human nervous systems.
It’s tempting to refer to Thrusters as either Acid or Electro, and both tags have some merit, as there is at least one 303 bassline on this record, and is built around the casual evolution of repeating parts, but that is not all there is to it. And while Nochexxx‘s music may sound like an Atari gone bad, with more lazer zaps and ASCII Sparkles and magic girl transformations than you can shake a paddle at, this record is not entirely retrodelic, either. In a recent interview with The Quietus, he has expressed an admiration for current trends in Ghetto music, as well as what he called ‘Eski Mutations’, like Logos and Visionist, so you can be sure to find the infinitely complex and varied rhythmic programming of a modern record – it’s not all from 1983.
Ultimately, Nochexxx defies time and genre to deliver 4 sides of constantly evolving dancefloor sculptures, and reveals the infinite complexity and possibilities of repetitive music, that runs from 20th century minimalism to Detroit Techno. It is powerful, hypnotic, ritualistic – but where a lot of the techno meditations on these pages are stark and grayscale, Thrusters is bright dayglo. It is the baddest soundtrack to a nonexistent video game, that you want yr friends over to play on Saturday night, while eating pizza and huffing Endust.
Like a lot of successful hypnotisms, a lot of Thrusters success comes from exquisite source material. Nochexxx’s drum machines and square wave bleeps are never harsh, soft as satin on the ears. This is not meant to abrade – it is meant to welcome. It does not seem that he is making fun of these sounds, nor the people that adore them. Nochexxx seems to legitimately love the sound of outdated technology, and that is captured in these grooves. His laser sculptures are swathed in glowing reverb, lovingly coaxed through circuits and transistors. His dayglo sound worlds are as warm as a spring day, floating in a hammock.
Like most of the analog technicians we talk about at Forestpunk, Nochexxx is offering a way through the digital clutter of our world. In that same Quietus interview, mentioned above, when asked about limitations:
N: I’m always running out of sample time, so I have to be quite decisive: a lack of options leading to more productivity, perhaps? And all this focus pulling – trimming the start/end points of samples – leads to some kind of ubiquitous wonkyness. Getting my loops right can be pretty tedious! Another positive limitation, I think, is having a tiny LCD screen to contend with. It forces me to look elsewhere. I don’t think you can underestimate the impact of visual stimulus, so just watching a record spin is a constant inspiration that never tires.
He inspires to pay time and attention – get those loops right! Pay attention to yr arrangements! Never does his music become boring or grating; minute details are constantly evolving, shifting beneath the surface of synths that manage to both be melodic AND atonal.
What we’re left with is like a newer Ghost Box record, all woozy electric harpsichords and updated radiophonic techniques, run through a teleportation device and spliced together with some of the avant beat mutations coming out of LA, from the likes of Stones Throw or Leaving Records.
For the ultimate depiction of the loopy dichotomy, check this cracked video from Plastic Horse, an animated horrorshow of Luciador masks, infernal flies, squalid apartments, drag racing and fireworks, delivered in a sharp Charles Burns grayscale. The music is bright and colorful, nearly garish, but the world is drab, nearly sleazy.
Here’s yr chance to make yr world a tad bit more dayglo. Thrusters may be fun, and it is, a tremendous amount of fun, but it’s also a killer. These acid tracks are meant to slay and dissolve the dancefloor.
The more i listen to Thrusters, the more i love it. Its the antidote to a lot of the monochromatic drone worlds i frequently inhabit, breathing life into the spectral void. I can’t wait to get to a PA and rock some faces with these tracks.
For those that love Bass Clef, or the radiophonic vibes of Gyratory Systems that i wrote about a few months ago, this is absolutely essential listening. And for those that are ever bogged down by the possibilities of infinite multitracking, take a listen to Nochexxx and get to sequencing!