Deadbeat: Radio Rothko
the Agriculture

Deadbeat's Radio Rothko instantiates that all-too-familiar phenomenon when the creation of a product by an individual or company prompts one to wonder, typically with incredulity, why no one thought of the brilliant idea before. In this particular case, Scott Monteith—as credible a candidate for assembling a mix of this genre type as one could want, given the Deadbeat discography he's built up over the past decade or so—provides an indelible portrait of the ‘dub-techno' scene, from its early-‘90s Berlin days with the landmark work Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald did under the Basic Channel name, on through the also-influential recordings done by Various Artists, Substance, and Vainqueur in association with Chain Reaction, and up to material currently being created by Deepchord, Intrusion, Marko Furstenberg, Tectonic's 2562, Modern Love artists Pendle Coven and MLZ, and, of course, Monteith himself. Put simply, with techno and house mixes appearing in multitudinous numbers, why has it taken so long for a definitive dub-techno mix to appear?

Interestingly, Radio Rothko is definitive, not just in terms of its selections, but in lending credence to the dub-techno label by giving equal weight to both halves; in other words, the production ambiance is dub to the bone, but the rhythmic heft and propulsion one associates with techno are present in equal measure. At its midpoint, the mix throbs with the kind of breathless intensity and forward momentum one more generally associates with a strict techno mix. It's also worth noting that Radio Rothko is not a history lesson per se (although it's tempting to regard it as such), as twelve of its nineteen tracks were recorded during the past two years, indicative of just how rich the genre's soil is as of this writing.

In this context, the influence of Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald upon subsequent producers verges on incalculable, so inextricably is it now laced into the DNA of modern-day practitioners' tracks (Monteith's own music has gravitated a bit closer in recent days to the Rhythm and Sound template, as witnessed by his featuring vocalist Paul St. Hilaire on the 2008 Deadbeat outing Roots and Wire). Rightfully so, then, the duo is represented by multiple tracks, each one representative of a different project name: “Quadrant Dub I” (Basic Channel), “M06A” (Maurizio) and “Mango Drive” (Rhythm and Sound). It's telling that the transition from “Quadrant Dub I” to Pendle Coven's “Exigen” is so smooth, one would be hard pressed to know, on sonic evidence alone, that the material is making broad temporal and geographical leaps when it does so.

At the outset, cold Berlin winds swirl across metallic, melting chords and hazy kick drums—instantly recognizable signifiers of the genre—in Various Artists' “No. 3 (debit)” before the mix gathers steam and grows in intoxication as it moves into “Quadrant Dub I.” Its forceful thrust and throb gradually bleeds into the slinky gallop of Deadbeat's own “Port of Rix” (an affectionate nod to Porter Ricks who gave us the Chain Reaction classic Biokinetics) and Quantec's charging “Electromagnetic Pulse” before slowing down for the seductive skank of “Mango Drive” and Intrusion's “Tswana Dub (Phase90 Restructure).” Mikkel Metal heats things up again with the dub-house trance of “Stephan,” and the Deadbeat cut “Deep Structure” retains the swinging house feel as it takes the mix out. Uniformity and contrast sit side-by-side, with the artists represented by individualizing productions despite drinking from the genre's common well. The clockwork precision and multi-dimensional sound design of “Static” readily identifies it as a Monolake track, for example, and no one will confuse it with something like 2562's “Redux,” which cools the pace to work a smattering of dubstep rumble into the mix.

Though it's hardly the primary intent of the mix, it does whet one's appetite for where Deadbeat will travel on his own next full-length; certainly his own contributions to the mix are strong indeed, and one suspects that deeply immersing himself in Radio Rothko will reap significant dividends in the character of his own future work. Regardless, it's a helluva long way from Kitchener, Ontario, that's for sure.

March 2010