The underground music scene is full of unheralded talent – people and labels whose significant contribution to a sound or style often goes overlooked. Amsterdam-based Marco Sterk could well be one of those people. A graphic designer by trade, he is responsible for the distinctive look and feel of Rush Hour’s many releases. But that’s not all. He’s also the man behind the stop-start Hand Of God label, an imprint whose sporadic releases gainfully attempt to join the dots between classic and contemporary house, leftfield disco and, on occasions, Italo.
Yet it is as a producer that Sterk may eventually be remembered. To date, he’s only put out a smattering of releases – a 12” here and a collaboration there (most notably with fellow Dutch producer Tom Trago), even the odd contribution to a compilation (see the loose and fluid “Hoodoo” on Rush Hour’s Amsterdam All-Stars collection). Here, he joins forces with the similarly overlooked ESP Institute label. Like Sterk’s own Hand of God imprint, ESP Institute operates at the margins, delivering music that doesn’t quite fit into neat categories. Last year’s Soft Rocks LP and a trio of delicious, vaguely Balearic Cos/Mes releases went largely ignored, despite ticking all the right boxes for those who like their music to be as surprising as it is entertaining.
The two tracks showcased here are typical of both Sterk and ESP Institute’s approach. Lead cut “Nonono” seems to exist somewhere in the margins; some elements sound like Stereolab, others Larry Heard after a fistful of downers. The shuffling, off-kilter production and woozy melodies are borderline Balearic, but they’re more fuzzy and snowy than sparkling and sunny. They are, though, quietly beautiful. By the time the wonky synth-strings kick in and the vintage drum machine rhythms kick in, you’ll be hooked.
“Darwin”, on the other hand, could definitely be described as “Balearic”. Featuring relentless, hypnotic melodies and marimba-ish riffs alongside nagging, stripped-back percussion, it sounds like an MDMA-muncher’s take on the classic works of American minimalist composer Steve Reich (who was, after all, memorably remixed last year by Vakula). With darting, soft focus synths and an undulating groove, it’s both mesmeric and enchanting. To these ears, it almost sounds like a contemporary answer to Chris Carter’s beguiling “Moonlight”, itself re-released last year by Optimo Music. Given the quality of these two tracks, it’s likely we’ll hear more from Young Marco over the next few years. If every subsequent release is as good as this, he won’t be an unsung hero for very long.