In 1997, British rockers The Verve, for the artwork of their farewell History single, posed in front of an abandoned theater in NYC with a large outdoor board over their heads that stated that ‘Art is either plagiarism or revolution.’ These words of wisdom still resonate today, as they always have. I mean, unless one is positioning oneself at the very tip of the aesthetic avant-garde, thus risking developing a language so revolutionary or solipsistic only oneself will understand it, art forms—techno music included—rarely feel utterly new and perfectly original. At best, an artist will claim known codes and tenets and redeploy them in unexpected directions, but unless your name is Carl Craig, Burial, or Matthew Dear, it seems that this barely ever happens in the electronic music community nowadays. But you could make a case that Leeds DJ and producer extraordinaire Paul Woolford has at least made a convincing attempt at originality on his latest album on the 20:20 Vision imprint, The Truth (or, at least, this is how the promotional, er, discourse would like us to believe).
Still riding the wave created by the success of ‘Erotic Discourse’ about two years ago, Woolford, here under his Bobby Peru guise, has created a truly consistent album. The press notes claim that it a highly personal one, too, since it was recorded after a few life-changing events (notably Woolford’s reunion with his birth father and an exhausting and vacuous hedonism-fueled stay in Ibiza). Listening to album openers ‘The Truth’ and ‘Throb’, though, you’d be hard pressed to say you could really tell anything intimate whatsoever about the guy who produced them: both are throbbing and relentless numbers, the former articulated around a steady live-sounding bassline and the later around a twisted, industrial-like beat. Both wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Chemical Brothers album.
What follows is definitely more varied and subtle, with tracks being both au fait with current underground trends yet haunted by a populist agenda. ‘Scandal’, ‘Venom’ and future single ‘Radioactive’ are built with the same effect-ridden template as ‘Erotic Discourse’, albeit with welcomed acidic undertones recalling the production style of early ‘90s Warp, while ‘Anatomy of Desire’ and ‘Emotional Violence’ are trance-tinged moments that could either make you think of producers such as Chaim and Guy Gerber or, if you listen closely, Moby. Instead of being truly personal in the intimate sense, then, The Truth ends up being a one-size-fits-all party album, both immediate and chummy. ‘Aguirre’, on the other hand, is a serene Board of Canada-esque moment that brings the album to a fulfilling conclusion.
But it is not totally over yet. The album finishes with ‘Erotic Discourse’ itself, which you obviously know quite well already. Still sounding like it’s stuck in a Tron-designed pinball machine, the track is a masterful example of form over substance, with its echoing and dizzying effects and seriously nothing else going on at all. Played by everyone from progressive DJs to Erol Alkan, this is house music being both dead simple and terrifyingly effective. Appearing here, sadly, in a slightly pointless Green Velvet re-edit (it gains a little in symbolic capital, but that’s about it, since you can’t tell at all what Green Velvet actually reworked) and politely stuck at the very end of the album, it just shows how Woolford is torn between reverence for the track that made him an underground star and an obvious desire to, you know, move the fuck on. The most appropriate thing to do would have been to either organize the entire album around it or just ignore it altogether and avoid its inclusion: however, as it manifests itself on here, ‘Erotic Discourse’ has now more to do with commercial imperatives than actual artistic vision, thus keeping in extremis the album from being a truly 5-out-of-5 exceptional and a paradigmatic example of contemporary electronic musicianship. That, and the fact ‘Shibboleth’ and ‘Each & Every Time’ are a bit of a dud.
But these are minor details that shouldn’t detract anyone from putting The Truth in their collection next to other classic UK techno—and I am using the term broadly on purpose here—albums such as Ex:Cel, LFO, Exit Planet Dust, Dubnobasswithmyheadman or I Care Because You Do. At least, this is where Woolford and his label would want you to put it. Because after all, as the same aforementioned British rockers once sang, this, with both its successes and few forgettable flaws, is music. Not revolution or plagiarism, just something sitting satisfyingly in the middle.
Tracklist01 The Truth
04 Anatomy of Desire
06 Once Bitten
08 Emotional Violence
11 Each and Every Time
13 Erotic Discourse (Green Velvet re-edit)