VA: Progress: The Trieste-Vladivostok EX.04 line
The global ubiquity of electronic music producers and technologies prompts one to question whether there's anything to differentiate a North American from, say, Japanese style: might, for example, an hypothetical blindfold test pinpoint unique characteristics of a given country's style, or has the transcending of geo-political borders obviated such idiosyncratic identifications? As a case study, Progress: The Trieste-Vladivostok EX.04 line poses at least a tentative reply to the question vis-à-vis Eastern European electronica as represented by sixteen pieces from artists based in Russia, Latvia, Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia. Though the album is a correlate to the November 24-26, 2004 'Progress EX.04' festival presented in Ljubljana–Slovenia, it's actually the second in the Progress series (designed to promote the network of electronic music scenes within East European countries) with the first, Progress–The Trieste-Vladivostok CTM.03 line, having appeared in 2003.
The collection's clearest strength is stylistic diversity. Opening in ambient mode with a tactile textures, decayed transmissions, and melancholy flute-like meanderings from Evgeniy Droomoff & Sound Meccano (Riga/Latvia), it then veers dramatically into skittish arcade melodies with Kleemar's (Slovenia) “Someone Who You Nod To... ,” Matej Koncan's tribute to electronic instrument inventor Raymond Scott. Some tracks hew closely to established tropes—Zvukbroda's (Croatia) Gramm-styled minimal techno and Octex's (Slovenian Jernej Marušic's moniker an acronym for 'Organic Crackle and Tone Experiments') snaking digi-dub—while others strike out for unexplored territory, Volga's (Russia) “Na gorushke,” for instance, which pairs minimal techno with the folkloric musings (lyrics from ancient Russian texts of the 12th-19th centuries) of vocalist Anjela Munukjan.
Russia's Echo Depth Finders' clattering brew of skuzzy hip-hop and Random Logic's (Slovenia) lurching industrial machine rhythms offer a comforting familiarity, while Harlem Underground's (Slovenia) “Rubjoff” partakes of more unusual jazz-tinged electro-madness. Equally wild is “Banjo Boy,” the mercurial outing by Karaoke Mouse (Czech Republic/Slovakia). Opening with microhouse shuffle, the piece devolves into a polka-flavoured mash-up; Tomáš Karásek and Victor Tverdochlebov's collaboration is based on internet sound exchanges and it sounds like it. Perhaps the most satisfying piece is P.o.S.'s (Serbia & Montenegro) propulsive dub-funk which entirely belies the full version of Goran Simonoski's moniker 'piece-of-shit.' Less satisfying is Felix Kubin and Wojtek Kucharczyk's (Germany/Poland) aptly-named TerriTerrorTorium collaboration “Grunwald–Tannenberg,” the title alluding to the historical dispute between Germany and Poland over their common border. It's a punk-styled, acid rave-up marred by the annoying sound of grotesque ravings.
Information accompanying the release makes the legitimate point that the scene appears radically different when seen from within or without, because the under-representation of Eastern European artists (like the aforementioned) at international festivals can be mistakenly interpreted by outsiders to mean a regional dearth of talent; those within the borders, however, are more than aware of the talent at hand, a conviction borne out by the collection at hand. Even so, if one had to judge from this collection alone, one might conclude that while there's as much stylistic diversity within these areas as anywhere else, the quality level reveals an equally wide latitude.