The Bristolian duo carve out a hypnotic and frequently distinctive niche.
Noel Gardner 2009-11-12
Electronic music enthusiasts will have only needed half an eye on the spread of regional scenes of late to have noted that Bristol, generally a fertile field for musical aheadness and large basslines, is performing even more strongly than normal. If they’ve trained both eyes on the West Country metropolis they may even have encountered Emptyset: a duo of art curator and technohead Paul Purgas plus UK-based American James Ginzburg. Their eponymous debut album, which follows three singles over two years, finds them carving out a hypnotic and frequently distinctive niche.
Among many entries on Ginzburg’s musical CV in his decade or so in England, perhaps the most respectable is his co-founding (with Bristolian DJ Pinch) of Tectonic, a label that’s been crucial to the gestation of dubstep. For better or worse, dubstep’s roots and branches have proliferated to the extent where two productions, nominally in the same genre, can seem quite at odds with one another; Emptyset is not a dubstep record, you understand. It is however informed by a wealth of heavy bass culture, and flickers moth-like – nocturnal, elusive – between subgenres.
Its opening anti-fanfare of unnerving subsonic bass tones are one hand a red herring, considering the flatly funked beatwork that defines much of the album; on the other, a harbinger of the edgy atmospherics that prevail throughout much of Emptyset’s 37-miniute duration. Even as tracks dance with ping-pong percussion, its roots seemingly in UK garage and minimal techno originators like Robert Hood and Daniel Bell – Completely Gone could almost be a lost track from the former’s immense Minimal Nation album – matters are consistently offset by distant drones and the eerie crackle of Jamaican dub. (The tones return, this time piercingly high, for the amelodic factory-line crunchfest of Beyond 2.)
Rarely does one find de facto feel-good music here, yet a fear-free advance on a dancefloor should find plenty to cut a rug to; moreover, if you’re still alive to the possibility that techno can, over 25 years since its inception, mutate and develop, then Emptyset are likely to make you... feel good.