Gatekeeper – Exo review

The relationship between electronic music and video games has been an interesting one to observe over the years. There was a lot of excitement when Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) was drafted in to provide the music for seminal 90s shoot-em-up Quake, while Amon Tobin made an official release out of his soundtrack for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Of course, the roots stretch back further; it’s hard to ignore the influence 8-bit console sounds had on electronic music from the 80s onwards. Even deep house head Kerri Chandler released the Computer Games LP in 2007, paying homage to a key influence on his music career.

With their debut LP Exo, the NYC based duo Gatekeeper have offered Hippos In Tanks a variation on this tradition as they continue their endeavours to be viewed as “an immersive audiovisual experience” as opposed to a mere band. Much like Giza, their EP for Merok, was accompanied by a VHS tape of music videos rendered in 3D, the ostensible album format of Exo is part of a wider concept, with a purpose -built video game environment to accompany the music, with a different level for each track. Even without the tack-on interactive element, Exo already sounds like a multi-sensory experience waiting for the missing visual element.

Album opener “Imax” is aptly titled as the plush sound design whooshes around you like a quintessential pre-movie ident, begging to be flung across the room on a 5.1 surround sound system. From this brief intro Gatekeeper take you on a fast-paced romp through all manner of bold electronic styles. On “Exolift” lashings of acid worm around a tough techno rhythm, only to deconstruct and rebuild in a dense collage of found sounds, while a mildly irritating trance arpeggio hammers away somewhere deep in the mix.

There is a sense that sometimes the producers Aaron David Ross and Matthew Arkell could have held back; that the temptation was too great to flaunt their appreciation of all manner of electronic music and grasp of studio sheen. However there’s plenty of moments where the mix is perfectly balanced, as on the industrial-tinged “Bog”. Still, that underlying nausea that comes from such a rush of information to your ears has an addictive quality that begs for high volume immersion. The breakbeat sprint of “Dromos” is as close as music can get to edge-of-the-seat action.

Whether this album stands strong independently of the video game analogies is debatable. The context is needed to justify the production pec-flexing, and does anchor the bombast of this kind of electronica. It’s impeccably realised, and presented in the right way it will undoubtedly draw you into a world where sound and vision fuse seamlessly in your head.

Oli Warwick 


Tracklisting:

1. Imax
2. Exolift
3. Visitor
4. Bog
5. Vengier
6. Hydrus
7. Pre-Gen
8. Tree Drum
9. Dromos
10. Aero
11. Re-Gen
12. Encarta