Album Review of Wonderland by Demdike Stare.
Release Date: Dec 2, 2016
Record label: Modern Love
Genre(s): Electronic, Garage, Club/Dance, Experimental Techno, Experimental Electronic, Garage Rap/Grime, Jungle/Drum'n'Bass, Experimental Jungle
For the first few years of their career, Demdike Stare narrowed in on their chosen aesthetic with unswerving focus. They took their name from a 17th-century witch; they favored titles like “Suspicious Drone” and “All Hallows Eve” and “Forest of Evil (Dusk).” Drawing from horror soundtracks, Italian library music, African percussion records, and industrial acts like Nurse With Wound, they boiled down the mixture until it resembled the sticky black substance scraped from the bottom of an iron cauldron. At the same time, the proportions of their music sprawled, and they turned to increasingly ambitious formats—triple CDs, quadruple LPs—to suit their meandering, multi-part ambient suites.
For Demdike Stare, Wonderland is an infinite loop. It’s a place, not of the boundless novelty and creation assumed to inspire wonder, but of the same materials — the electronic noises, samples, tones, and textures — recycled again and again. Replete with the minute inflections intended to give them an aura of evolution and progression, these regurgitated materials create the magical impression of movement through space, time, and history, when in actual fact space, time and history have ceased to exist in any meaningful sense.
Following Demdike Stare's ambitious 2012 double CD, Elemental, which compiled four EPs along with bonus material, the British experimental electronic duo (consisting of Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker) began releasing a series of Testpressing 12" singles, offering their bleak, volatile takes on jungle, breakbeat hardcore, and grime. In addition, Whittaker and Andy Stott released an excellent full-length under their long-running Millie & Andrea side project, which similarly explored roughneck breakbeats and heavy bass. All of this plays into Demdike Stare's full-length Wonderland, which was surprise-released at the end of 2016 by the duo's longtime home, Modern Love.
Demdike Stare are masters of mood. Their sprawling Tryptych, which compiled three 2010 albums, made that especially clear. It had a particularly evocative sense of place, full of scene-setting details—the play of moonlight, the smell of moss, a thick fog hovering close to the ground. It was unsettling and cinematic, unlocking an ambiguous sort of dread while sidestepping horror soundtrack tropes.Their Testpressing series—a sequence of seven 12-inches that culminated last year—saw them emerge from the cloud of atmospherics to focus on the more palpable elements of rhythm and bass.