Various Artists - Alec Empire Plays Staubgold: Rauschgold [Staubgold - 2009]It must be pretty hard being Alec Empire. I don’t mean to suggest the guy’s life went down the drain somewhere over the last ten years, or that he’s, emotionally, privately, down in the dumps or something alike, but it seems tough shit to have been at the forefront of the scene specializing in that blend of hardcore, experimental electronics and punk rock dubbed digital hardcore for half of the 90s, and then to’ve sort of been chucked out of it, or rather, to have the whole scene chucked out with you. Fact of the matter is, digital hardcore, at least by today’s standards, is a dated, awful sort of thing, suitable mainly, if not only, for reminiscing (“Oh, friends, remember listening to this and thinking the world of it?”) and brushing aside.
That is not to brush aside Alec Empire’s achievements, musical or otherwise; other fact of the matter is that the scene spawned some decent artists, and at least inspired a good many others, in addition to bringing an unprecedented rawness and filth to hardcore music, which had, until then, been primarily an unsatisfying mashing-up of weakly distorted beats and gimmicky samples. Moreover, Empire’s documented collaboration with Masami Akita (Merzbow), recorded live in 1998 at CBGB’s and released five years later, is still something of a unique, if not simply excellent, record, combining the raw, pulsating throbs of Merzbow’s harsh noise with Empire’s raw, throbbing pulses – beats meets screeches, and it works.
Empire has plodded on since then, and though I can’t say I’ve kept very good track of him, Alec Empire Plays Staubgold: Rauschgold may actually motivate me to look into the man’s works with renewed interest. As the title already suggests, the CD does not contain any original material from Empire, besides the Outro; instead, it’s a mix tape composed entirely of music released through the German Staubgold label, who have released anything from Faust to Kammerflimmer Kollektief, and from The No-Neck Blues Band to Oren Ambarchi. Their output is varied, and one never knows what to expect, but therein lies the charm; the music on this compilation is as kaleidoscopic, though, broadly speaking, the focus is largely on rhythm-oriented music.
However, whoever expects to pull off a successful party with Rauschgold playing in the background should think twice; as often as not, the rhythms are submerged in overlying soundscapes, buried underneath buzzing and fizzing electronics, and every now and again, they are fully absent; only rarely do they convey any sort of traditional musical aesthetic. It’s all for the better though; at those rare moments, the music frighteningly resembles something I’d sooner hear at the local hair dresser’s than on any record I’d buy myself (the Kammerflimmer Kollektief track springs to mind) – an association not entirely beneficial.
However, those moments, as said, are rare; often, the rhythms are more subdued, the execution more elegant. The Autistic Daughters track breathes a strange, slightly unpleasant (in a good way) singer-songwritery rock vibe; Organ Eye offer a intriguing sonic landscape of electronic crunch and field recordings; the Harald Sack Ziegler song is a strange and quirky lullaby, bubbly and dreamy; both Faust tracks are, of course, complete krautrock triumphs. The juxtaposition of such varied music seems gutsy, and it is, but the result is, to be honest, ab fab. It’s tricky to pick favourites from the mix, but I guess that speaks all for it: Rauschgold is consistently impressive and consistently enjoyable.
As far as I’m concerned, Alec Empire’s return to my record player is a wholly glorious one. Rauschgold is a hugely enjoyable mix tape that is as much a testament to the quality of Staubgold, the label, as to the quality of Empire himself. Sven Klippel