Ever since their initial singles were released in the mid-1990s and became international calling cards for the Chain Reaction label, the Porter Ricks duo of Thomas Köner and Andy Mellwig have represented that crucible point in which techno music leaked into new social environments and became the background music for cutting-edge cultural critique. Their submerged “scuba” sound, presented in dark tone colors and reverberating to infinity, is now instantly identifiable as one of the ‘soundmarks’ of Berlin club culture. Just as importantly, it is still a palpable aftershock of a pre-millenial genre explosion that saw deep dub, shimmering post-rock, abstract hip-hop and art-damaged noise all drinking from the same well of inspiration. Together with restless international collaborators such as Kevin Martin, and theoretical thinktanks such as the Mille Plateaux label, Mellwig and Köner were key players in a larger decentralized rebellion against musical monoculture. Their stated desire to make unexpected timbral shifts as important to their compositions as rhythm, along with their indifference to concerns like public image, set up a situation that critic Kodwo Eshun picked up on early on (“no pictures or interviews act as shock absorbers…the full force of their inexplicable sounds falls around your ears.”)
For proof of Porter Ricks’ enduring legacy, look no further than the fact that “dub techno” is now a stylistic movement that has expanded far beyond the confines of Berlin and the Basic Channel / Chain Reaction label alliance (where Mellwig’s mastering skills also played a starring role). Lurid traces of PR’s aesthetic can now be found in the work of producers like Andy Stott and Miles Whittaker, showing the potential for the duo’s unique ‘aquatic’ techniques to be applied to a variety of different musical contexts. However, this does present Porter Ricks with the unique challenge of reasserting themselves in a scene that has mastered their sonic vocabulary so well, the originals themselves run the risk of sounding like imitators…are they up to the task?
Their new LP on Tresor, Anguilla Electrica, may be their first full-length release in seventeen full years, but it radiates with confidence and with a clarity and intensity rarely seen in a world so oversaturated with communications noise. It’s made clear at once that it’s a continuation of a sonic ideal rather than a tribute to what has already been achieved: the duo is not idly sitting back while their newer acolytes do their talking for them. From the outset, the title track “Anguilla Electrica” slithers to life with bouncing and panning sequences that cover the full frequency spectrum and provide a perfect update on Porter Ricks’ exploration of animalistic movement and perception. Elsewhere, pieces such as “Scuba Rondo” also reanimate the classic Porter Ricks sound in striking fashion, playfully setting up a virtual sonic kitchen in which gelatinous sound phrases blend with steamy hisses and distinct crackling. In other places, like “Port of Tangency” and “Shoal Beat,” the duo once again demonstrates just how effortlessly catchy the conversational tension between lockstep groove and slightly unhinged, unidentifiable sound material can be.
This new LP is well worth the wait and is a life-affirming one in an uncertain and perilous time, drowning out daily anxieties like a rush of incoming surf - yet it is far more invigorating than relaxing. True to the Porter Ricks tradition, it will be just as exciting hearing this music as it will be to experience what new cultural mutations it leaves in its wake