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Pole – Waldgeschichten review

The legacy of Stefan Betke echoes throughout 21st century electronic music like the legend of the faulty filter bank that gave rise to his distinctive sound. In a time when the term ‘minimal’ has become something of a by-word for boring, it’s important to look to the music of people like Betke and remember that at its best, the clicks and cuts approach to music production can be just as engaging and exciting as any other method.

Since his first album in 1998, the sound of Pole has evolved very gently. Right up to his last noticeable release, the Steingarten album, Betke’s music has been nothing if not consistent, distilling the essence of genuine dub roots into a thoroughly modern context. Observations on the movement of his sadly defunct label ~Scape also point to an appreciation of the wilder frontiers of dubstep when the genre started to spread its wings; a logical association for a man who was clearly enamoured with the history of dub and the vanguard of electronic music production.

After something of a hiatus (besides a one-off release under his own name), Pole returns with a release that could only belong to him. “Wipfel” starts in an uneasy locked groove, with a human murmur caught in a loop with some trademark static crackles. A minute in and the delayed keys chime, and the hypnotic ride can begin properly. The elements get fed into the mix so gently it’s tricky to keep tabs on them, and before you know it the track is fully underway in all its micro glory. The groove is a strong one, albeit not in a dancefloor sense of the word, but more in the way that so many tiny elements tug in a stepped rhythm. Throughout everything, the same dubby organ flutters, swells, pops and hums to keep everything grounded.

It’s definitely not unfamiliar territory for anyone who has listened to Pole before, but it’s no less enjoyable. “Wurzel” takes on a more downbeat tone, although it largely employs the same methods. More space is afforded to the elements, less concerned with busying up the track. At times the beats die off to a solitary pulse, only to ease back in to the core refrain of the song. As you might expect, “Wipfel Dub” goes heavy on the delay and reverb, producing a version in the Scientist tradition. It doesn’t veer far from the original, instead taking the core of the track and ricocheting it out across space and time like a true dub explorer. It’s a nice addendum rather than an exciting piece in its own right.

In a way that concept sums up the whole release. Rather than heralding a drastic change of direction; the unmissable return of Pole; the radical new sound of Stefan Betke; Waldgeschichten simply serves as a pleasant addition to a wonderful canon of music. A long time Pole fan would perhaps not miss out a great deal were they to sleep on this release, but that doesn’t make it any less welcome.

Oli Warwick