Reviewed/Interviewed: By Andy Green :
Steve(n) Rutter: a true legend in the history of British electronic music is about to release his first full-length LP on his own label, and under his own name. With those parameters, it was always going to be a very personal musical and artistic statement. After spending some time with the music, I chatted with Steve about his record to help with this review. He has also kindly answered a few questions (below) that add some further insight.
For the last few years Steve, even as a solo producer, has continued to release his music as B12, a small number of EPs appearing elsewhere (like Delsin) but principally through Firescope, his own project. In many regards, the label is a fitting successor to B12 Records which was a benchmark for deep emotive techno from the early nineties. Firescope sustains that earlier ethos of quality music, which is also beautifully presented to its collectors and listeners. Recent releases by Timeline favourites Derek Carr, John Shima and Darren Nye are a testament to this ideal.
Running through the track titles of Brain Fog it is very apparent there is a strong narrative and message to be heard. It’s no coincidence that recently, Steve has opened up to communicate his struggle to cope with and manage Bipolar Disorder. Extending that therapeutic process, Brain Fog is his platform to articulate some of those desperate and challenging emotions he lives with. For some, this notion might preclude the enjoyment of the record, but I think its enriching to consider that depth and context. And that is notwithstanding the value of a conversation (through music) about mental illness in the public domain.
It takes several listens to fully appreciate the craft and beauty of these tracks. They are meticulously programmed and brimming with complex sounds and ideas; there are twists and turns with sudden changes in tone and mood which may confuse initially, but these are the states of mind being shared. Overall the mood of the LP is unsurprisingly quite dark and pensive but with some wonderful moments of light, joy and times to breathe.
There will be comparisons to seminal LPs like Electrosoma (recently reissued by Warp) and there is no denying they share some genetics. The signature broken beats and intricate percussion are still here, the achingly beautiful pads and harmonies can be found but the sound has evolved and matured. It is fair to state this isn’t a record for dance floors, it is slow and measured, and often claustrophobic. Signature B12 moments like Mondrin held a majesty and sense of grandiose that is eschewed with restraint & introspection on Brain Fog. Now producing alone you can sense Steve has been liberated to be much more experimental in sound and structure of some of the tracks.
That experimentation is apparent on a track like First Degree Anguish which pulses at no more than 60bpm. Its oppressive and foreboding; a simple hat interrupting the kick drum but then sweeping, buzzing pads take you away and lift the gloom.
Memories of You is a delicate and wonderfully fragile track. Beautifully crafted with broken beats and tablas. Soft chimes fill the spaces, the most tender and heavenly pads are simply a standout moment of the LP – sublime. Infinity Engine is another highlight for me and the most uptempo track on the LP. it contains the most driving of basslines to be found on Brain Fog amongst skittish hats but the pads again here are celestial.
In summary, this a bold LP from Steve in which he has invested so much of himself. I am confident (unlike Steve Rutter) it will be appreciated by those with the patience to listen attentively. I think it more responsible not to elaborate too much on the 12 tracks – listen for yourself and step inside the brain of one of our finest techno producers.
AG : The LP feels very personal & honest. Is there any particular feeling or message you want to communicate through this music? Why now for this 1st eponymous LP?:
SR: BrainFog is about my personal battle I face every day; the battle to get up and engage with whatever the day brings my way. My head is either full of thoughts that are constantly racing around in a huge muddle or a haze of nothingness and numbness. Brain fog refers to both of these states as they are both so debilitating.I have released this first LP under my own name as it is a statement and a representation of a personal struggle.
AG: How different is now to produce on your own? Do you feel more freedom to be experimental and push your ideas in new directions? Perhaps be more self-indulgent?
I find producing and releasing alone a very different experience. The difference is of course that it ‘is all my own work’ but more so it means I can tap into something far greater than me and allow the sounds from above to find their way into the computer. I used to really concentrate and work hard but now I just let it happen; it’s wonderful!
AG: What do you think of the current condition of deep techno (and I’m thinking solely in terms of musical content). Whilst there are lots of talented new producers for me the music isn’t evolving ….does that matter? Going back to the ‘halcyon days’ deep techno ….the Warp, B12 Records, Peacefrog, GPR times…. many of those releases had an innocence, purity, and sense of experimentation. I find that the majority of new music feels more self-conscious and wanting to conform to expected standards…..its really hard to find totally inventive music….what’s your take?
SR: I don’t really know about the current music scene as I don’t listen to new music. I may change this soon but being so isolated means I can exist in a bubble and make music that comes from my soul; not from external current influences. I love it. What is sad about today (although in some ways it is great progress) is that to get your music heard is virtually impossible. In my days there could be 20 new records a week at the record shop. Today there are 20,000 it is a nightmare !
AG: Where do you want to go with Firescope now and what about further collaborations….who would you like to produce with?
SR: I run Firescope like a little family. Everyone knows everyone and together we create beautiful records. I will always put heavy focus on the music as well as the packaging and I have no plans to ever lose that. I aim to make FireScope a record label that constantly gets it right …. I hope I am on the right track so far!