With Shawn O’Sullivan based in Brooklyn and Beau Wanzer in Chicago the opportunities to work in the same room with the same gear just don’t present themselves all that often, so Civil Duty was born of jam sessions whilst meet-ups or tours were happening – the pair just utilising a ‘machines on and go’ improvisatory work technique where they sweat the equipment for fifteen to twenty minutes until they hit a sweet spot to start recording. An extremely limited tape caught the approach in its primal state from a live ‘showcase’ set in the LA music store Mount Analog last year, and a single track slotted between solo O’Sullivan tracks on The Corner in 2013 hinted at the pace and trajectory they’ve been exploring. For most however, this LP – recorded in just two major sessions split over the last couple of years – will be the first contact.
The context Civil Duty work in is interesting in contrast to their respective solo work (particularly Wanzer’s weird and wild no-wave, no-scene style), tending to provide something much tighter and confrontationally techno for The Corner. There’s often a sense of production existing in relation to classic and sometimes maligned subsidies and styles of techno, licks of EBM or ‘90s hamhead hardcore n’ breakcore that live in small choices and veiled reference, or otherwise slyly fitted into the reasonably gritty ‘tool’-like formations. It’s these little dark associations that often give the project a sense of upfront toughness and minor retroactive focus, and which associate it so easily with The Corner and Anthony Parasole as a curator.
The label has always sat in a strange place between rugged house and tough strains of hardcore techno, cultivated by Parasole’s ragtag collection of relationships within New York that has seen a slow slide from the deep vibes of Fred P and DJ Qu to the bunker-shaking Adam X 12” Where Were You in ’92? in the last three years. And though the grimy vintage photography and potted local histories adorning the label often haphazardly cross into the very waxed-‘tache and $10 pickle-jar Brooklyn culture they’re trying to lash out against, there’s a real heritage here that translates to old producers making new exciting work and new producers making stuff that responds to the old.
“No Dexterity” kicks things off and falls into a quick thumping rhythm that remains a constant throughout Civil Duty, the BPM usually wavering at a rate slightly higher than that which contemporary techno usually falls for. A single drone punctuates and a German warehouse-style two-note bassline undulates deep, bringing to mind classic Regis or the simple hypnosis of early Norman Nodge. Small or single-note melody sequences flit through, sometimes with a kind of hallmark acid tab, and many elements often turn through slow or minute developmental alterations through playtime – taking on woody, coriaceous or slight dub effect chaining that has been crossed across a lot of Shawn O’Sullivan’s recent work.
By the time the duo are zoning into a tighter knit on “Mindhives” their ability has really come in increased focus, the remaining jacking structure falling away to leave a single, funneled attack movement that traverses wormholes. It’s the point at which notions of concept dissipate and a single palpitating urgency starts to hit your brainwave patterns, or where you switch the record off because you don’t feel like listening to something so juristic. There’s few frills here, just excellent techno.
A1. No Dexterity
A2. Microtome Massacre
B1. Belial’s Night In
C1. Pure Tums
D1. Two Door Civic
D2. Pro Emetic