In the time-slipping tendencies of modern music, it’s rare to find many artists pushing solely forwards without some nod to the past, whether stated or otherwise. So it is that Dave Sumner revives his dormant Infrastructure label, previously put on ice as Sandwell District ramped up its operations in the mid ’00s. Sumner has made it clear that in its second coming this label will be focused on “melding classic ideals with a modern viewpoint,” and it’s an interesting position to take for an artist that has spent years charging ahead without spelling out too literally what his intentions are. On listening to this first of the new wave of releases, produced alongside Ed Davenport in his burgeoning Inland guise, there is no masking the nostalgic glances that embody the music.
Take the strings that peal out over “Odeon”, with their mournful romanticism calling to mind the android balladry of Autechre circa the Garbage EP. Combined with the peppy bursts of acid that help propel the track, there is a distinct feeling of being blasted back to the early days of UK techno with all its dour reappraisal of Detroit’s fierce and hopeful machine music. There is definitely a modern heart beating at the core of the track, most strongly felt in the neat and punchy kick with its offbeat kink and relentless energy, and to that end the ‘playability’ of the track is undoubtedly boosted where some truly vintage tracks can suffer. Really though this is techno to get emotional to, and in the fluttering of the harmonies those aforementioned strings elicit, there are some moments that nearly take the wind out of your lungs as they teeter on the edge of discord.
“Rhyl” finds Sumner and Davenport pushing even further into plush melodic territory with an aqueous line in synths that call out a similarly heartbroken mantra. The wobbly pad that hangs in the background of the track strains under its own imperfections, serving a similar role to the strings on “Odeon”, but in a lower, brooding register. The beat however lifts this track considerably, as a rich and dynamic spread of percussive hits fall into a crafty broken rhythm that quivers with masterful delay application. The drum sounds themselves have a polish that belies the modernity of the track, but in the way everything hangs together so naturally, it makes more sense to consider that the Artificial Intelligence era was way ahead of production values at the time. Many techno-educated listeners would hear a track like “Rhyl” and assume it was plucked from the mid ’90s, and yet on closer examination there are none of those try-hard lo-fi approaches to be found in this music. The ropiest the sound gets is in that warbling pad, which is as much a creative tool as a mechanical quirk.
As such, this EP pays the greatest possible tribute to the music it references, by proving just how ‘ahead of its time’ it was. It’s a phrase that gets bandied around a lot, and it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow to, say, a ropey old Trax record getting such an accolade. Pioneering is one thing, sounding twenty years ahead of the curve is something else entirely. If this spells out David Sumner’s intentions for how to fuse the old and the new with Infrastructure, then there can only be great things on the horizon.