The fact that this sophomore full-length from deep house stalwart Mark Evetts is a concept album of sorts could be seen as a sign of his growing maturity and confidence as a producer. Taking this viewpoint suggests, though, that he’s only become a fully rounded producer in recent times; in truth, there’s been a sure-footedness and musical richness about output from Mark E for some time. While his sound has evolved over the years – from the slo-mo, sample-heavy loop jams of old to warm, fuzzy deepness via polished nu-disco and heavily electronic deep house – it’s only in recent years that he’s begun to think about his approach more seriously, citing inspirations and building tracks around concepts. It suggests a producer comfortable in his own skin, ready to deliver the sort of album many thought he was capable of.
That’s not to say that his 2011 debut album, Stonebreaker, wasn’t a fine effort; woozy, electronic and immaculately produced, it delivered a range of melodic and floor-friendly excursions and was something of a hit with DJs. Yet to these ears, it sounded a little flat and, arguably, a bit too polished. It felt rigid in comparison to some of his earlier work, and its dancefloor-centric nature made it feel more like a collection of club tracks than a rounded, coherent album. It’s pleasing to report, then, that Product of Industry, Evetts’ second full-length, addresses these issues. While still rooted in the metronomic pulse of deep house, it includes a broader range of influences, mixes up the tempos, utilizes a broader sound palette, and makes great use of found sound and field recordings (check the hustle and bustle of opener “Kultra Kafe”).
The album was designed with a simple concept in mind, specifically the demise of heavy industry in the West Midlands, the region of the United Kingdom that Evetts has long called home. To achieve this goal, Evetts decided to swap plug-ins and soft synths for drum machines, vintage synthesizers and other “outboard” kit. As a result, there’s a warmth, depth and poignancy to Product of Industry that Stonebreaker sadly lacked. The rise and fall of manufacturing has long been a strong influence on electronic music. The clanking, repetitive nature of Kraftwerk’s music has often been attributed to Germany’s post-war manufacturing boom, while the rise of Detroit’s techno scene coincided with the crippling decline of the city’s motor industry. It’s true, too, that the rise in industrial-influenced electronic music in Sheffield began when the city’s famous steel industry was still at its pomp. Its’ decline during the 1980s in turn inspired the city’s producers to create music that pined for the halcyon days of heavy industry. It’s perhaps no coincidence that bleep techno, that most clanking and functional of electronic styles, blessed bass-heavy echoes of glories past, was partly born in the steel city.
Fittingly, bleep was also popular in Birmingham, a city at the heart of the Black Country – a region, like Detroit, long famous for car manufacturing. The region’s long, slow decline has largely been ignored by the wider world. Musically, it’s rarely been an inspiration to local producers. It’s perhaps for this reason that Evetts’ loving, slightly melancholic tribute to the Black Country’s past and present hits home hard. On Product of Industry, this inspiration can be heard clearest in Evetts’ rhythms. The restless, relentless movement of machinery can be felt in the punchy brass refrain, breathless drums and metronomic pulse of “Persia”. There’s a similar production line feel about the shuffling, repetitive rhythm underpinning “Smoke”. The stunning track – a 10-minute epic that counts as one of the album’s genuine highlights – features rubbery electric bass parts that doff a flat cap to classic 1980s industrial funk acts such as Cabaret Voltaire and Chakk. Yet it’s the sheer poignancy of the chords and melodies that hits home hardest; there’s no doubt how Evetts’ feels about the decline of industry in his city.
Further tributes to the industrial-inspired music of the 1980s can be found on “Bog Dance”, a heady fusion of darting analogue synthesizers, surging drum machine grooves and cascading electronics, and “Eganix”, whose metallic, midtempo rhythm comes on like the soundtrack to hard manual labour. Like “Smoke”, it too is blessed with chords and melodies that stir emotions. It’s a trick that Evetts’ employs throughout the album, even when taking aim at dancefloors. There’s a crippling melancholy at the heart of “Image Monitor Learn”, whose enveloping chords and bustling electronics ride a groove seemingly made out of scaffolding poles being hit with hammers (it probably isn’t, though it’s a nice thought).
Of course, none of this is “industrial” in the traditional sense. Product of Industry may have been inspired by the rise and fall of Birmingham’s manufacturing sector, but it is still a Mark E album. That means that there’s room for moments of pleasing fluidity, whose musical composition borders on rush inducing. In fact, the album’s most jaw-dropping moment, closer “Leaving Osaka” – all jammed keys, drawn out chords, tactile rhythms and intricate electronics – falls into this category. Like much of Product of Industry, it manages to be quietly uplifting and intensely introspective, sometimes at the same time. Evetts has only occasionally achieved this feat in the past; on Product of Industry, he’s finally got the balance just right. It is, without doubt, his strongest body of work to date.
1. Kultra Kafe
4. Being Hiding
5. Bog Dance
6. Myth of Tomorrow
8. Image Monitor Learn
9. Leaving Osaka