- Dave Sumner revisits his New York roots on this surprisingly expansive album.
- When Dave Sumner released a trailer for a new Function album, Existenz, the techno stalwart presented a vision board for his Technicolor past. He pulled together a cheeky melange of public access television clips, linking the colorful absurdity of a wayward astrologist's TV show with poignant dispatches from a New York of the past—fuzzy tape recordings of the pre-9/11 skyline and clips from a vogue-influenced Thierry Mugler catwalk. It was a beacon of sorts, a sign that, after decades of living in Berlin, Sumner was, musically at least, returning to his roots in New York.
Sumner has acknowledged the styles he loves beyond techno, from freestyle classics to the Human League. Existenz reflects that breadth. "Sagittarius A (Right Ascension)" opens the LP with a propulsive bass redolent of Trans-Europe Express, while the rounded 909 bounce of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" recalls Bobby Konders. From a DJ who has remained under the radar despite his outsized influence on techno, the album is a biography of sorts, recounting the sounds and spaces that marked his rise as a producer.
Though there are samples of the chilling, industrial intensity closely associated with Sandwell District ("Entrinken," "Vampir"), they are rote compared to the record's other tracks: the acid line rippling through "Nylon Mood," the warm vocals from house pioneer Robert Owens on "Growth Cycle," and "Be," the "Apache"-esque breakbeat on "No Entiendes." The album is often as changeable as that sounds, but Sumner deploys motifs—like the synth pads on "Growth Cycle" that return on "Distant Paradise"—to tie this wide-ranging, 17-track album together.
"Zahlensender," the LP's fifth track, is the German word for a "number sender," a name for a type of short-frequency radio station through which encrypted messages were transmitted to intelligence operatives during World War I. Going by the album cover, a photo of a neon-clad dancer melted into abstraction by distortion and decay, and the flattened incantations from Sumner's partner, Stefanie Parnow, Existenz indeed feels like a secret transmission for listeners to decipher.
One of the most famous shortwave stations, the Cyprus-based Lincolnshire Poacher, signed off with a traditional English folk song, a sign of familiarity that secretly hinted at its roots in MI6, or the Secret Intelligence Service. Existenz's zahlensender, then, closes with "Downtown 161." Named for a label responsible for distributing early New York house music, it's a raucous, vocal-driven track that fades into the warm sounds of triangle hits and electric piano. It's a fitting sign-off for a deep dive into Sumner's decrypted memories.
01. Sagittarius A (Right Ascension)
02. Pleasure Discipline
04. Growth Cycle
06. The Approach
07. Nylon Mood
08. Alphabet City
09. Don't Ask, Don't Tell
10. No Entiendes
12. Golden Dawn
13. Interdimensional Interferenc
14. Distant Paradise
17. Downtown 161