- Ripe for the club.
- Arthur Cayzer and Jamie Roberts were in their early 20s when they released "Auflen Whip," a cavernous, clanking techno track from an EP that helped shape the style's future. You may have been the same age or younger, possibly burning through a student loan at cosy club nights soundtracked by a new wave of artists pushing mutant house and techno produced in the so-called "post-dubstep" era. Better known as Blawan, Roberts was among the best known of these acts at the time, mostly thanks to his ubiquitous 2011 smash "Getting Me Down," a sugary house track with a mean streak. That mean streak colours Karenn's productions today, though, as the snarling "Crush The Mushrooms" from their new album shows, the sound is far slicker than what we danced to eight years ago. Karenn have grown up, and so have we.
Recorded during an "intense studio session" in Berlin, where Roberts lives, Grapefruit Regret has a title that feels like an inside joke. But nothing about the music is funny. It burrows into your brain with nimble basslines and modulating bleeps, the energy shifting from track to track. Some, like "Kumquat," are colourful, pairing bleeps and synth zaps with steady, rolling grooves. Others, like "Raz," are more rhythmic, increasing the focus on low-end sounds. As with Wet Will Always Dry, Roberts' 2018 album, this record covers a range of sounds and moods without leaving the club. That's not surprising. As Karenn, Cayzer and Roberts spend much of their time together huddled over machines playing to packed dance floors, where they built a reputation for thrilling, powerful live sets. They use their studio time to recreate the energy of those sets, a task they've found difficult. "It's never possible to recreate the sound we get when we're playing live," Roberts said a few years ago. "That's why a lot of the records sound nothing like our live sets."
Even so, Grapefruit Regret bangs. From the chaos of "Crush The Mushrooms" to the contemplative chug of "Peel Me Easy," the deepest track Karenn have released, it presents a range of high-quality techno tunes that stand apart from ongoing trends. Tempos range from 100 to 150 BPM, with nothing that recalls Stanislav Tolkachev's paranoid loops or Kobosil's EBM grunt, two artists who, like Karenn, have helped shape the sound of modern techno, relentlessly copied by artists new and old.
That's partly why Cayzer and Roberts are vital. Their music exists in a realm of its own, not obviously influenced by the wider scene's shifting tastes. That doesn't mean they're not influential. Their militant early tracks inspired a wave of artists, reigniting interest in intense UK techno after years of softer sounds. Roberts once complained about a "saturation" of German-style techno, a feeling likely brought about by the dominance of DJs associated with the Berlin club Berghain. He and Cayzer helped draw attention elsewhere. If the techno in the '00s belonged to Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock, the '10s belong to artists like Karenn.
Yet, testament to the way Cayzer and Roberts approach their craft, Grapefruit Regret is presented as nothing more than a collection of dance tracks made to play in clubs. It's pressed on heavyweight vinyl, landing without a lengthy press text or explanation (insider tip: the best house and techno often comes like this). Eight years after their first record, Karenn's unfussy approach has given us what might be 2019's best techno album, a remarkable collection of detailed, modulating tracks recorded on the fly. Cayzer and Roberts' unpretentious, off-the-cuff attitude feels too laidback for the impact of the music extracted from their mess of modular synthesisers. After all, as they once said, they're just "making noises."
01. Lemon Dribble
03. Peel Me Easy
05. Crush The Mushrooms
08. Taste Yourself