Some Kind of Monster

Fused from worldly machine beats and supernatural sonic apparitions, Isolée's Wearemonster remakes the techno landscape

Between 1996 and 1998 he released four 12-inch singles on Playhouse, which had discovered him when a mutual friend passed along his demo cassette. The early Isolée tracks pay homage to the minimal machine rhythms of classic Chicago house, as well as the easy swing of West Coast G-funk, but there's a strange undercurrent tugging them toward more distant shores: Drums seem to detune at will, and unadorned analog synthesizers, alternatingly thin and gloopy, go sour like milk that's been left out too long. The beats are sharp enough to propel dance floors, but they're fueled by a weird, nervous energy that threatens to derail the party with every measure.

In 1999, Playhouse released Müller's fifth single, "Beau Mot Plage," and his career reached a turning point. "Beau Mot Plage" -- a pun on Bomo Plage, an Algerian beach Müller had visited as a child -- was no less strange than his early singles, but spiced up with Caribbean guitars and Latin syncopations, it boasted a more universal appeal than his previous work. London's Classic label licensed it for reissue, and from there, the contract ink continued to flow; according to Discogs.com, an electronic-music discography, the song appears on no fewer than 47 compilations. Many of them feature titles like Café Mambo: The Real Sound of Ibiza and Spirit of the Sun 2 -- breezy, Balearic references that seem at odds with the cold, Teutonic vibe of Isolée's other work up until that point. These days, it's not terribly unusual for an underground German techno producer's work to appear on a mix CD from a dodgy U.K. progressive-house jock, but back then the line dividing Continental trainspotter tracks and mainstream Anglo-American fare was almost impenetrable; Isolée's breaching of the barrier wasn't just unexpected, it was downright bizarre. (Müller told me in 2001 that a friend had exclaimed, "Man, you're on such shitty compilations, it's incredible!")

In 2000, Müller released his debut album, Rest; it was much in line with the eerie electro vibe of the early singles, but with "Beau Mot Plage" as the centerpiece. And then, without warning, Isolée more or less disappeared. (The artist's new Web site even pokes fun at his lengthy absence, announcing newswire-style, "Isolée still alive ....") Aside from a handful of remixes -- some of which, like last year's limited-run revisitation of Recloose's "Cardiology," have become more famous than most of Müller's own work -- he released only three singles under his own name in the intervening five years.

Isolée's Rajko Müller makes a rare stateside 
appearance in S.F. this week.
B
Isolée's Rajko Müller makes a rare stateside appearance in S.F. this week.

Details

Makes his San Francisco debut alongside local DJs Nikola Baytala, Sammy D, Alland Byallo, Craig Kuna, and Brian Walls

Saturday, Sept. 17

474-7973

www.ko ntrolsf.com

"Kontrol" at Rx Gallery

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Müller cites many practical reasons for his near silence: a year spent preparing his first live set; moving apartments within Frankfurt, and then from Frankfurt to Hamburg; months of trial and error as he bought and sold studio equipment before finally settling down with a handful of vintage synthesizers. Also, he says, "Sometimes I just wasn't really into electronic music. I was a little bored with what I heard in clubs." He dug into the Beach Boys, bought tube amps and guitar effects. Finally, he says, "The pressure to release a second album -- it had to be something special, but I knew I couldn't do something similar to Rest."

He didn't. If early Isolée tracks are lithe to an almost anorexic extreme, Wearemonster's songs sound like they've spent the past half-decade lounging around, feeding on truffles. Which isn't to say that they're overproduced; just that they make no bones about their excess. Practically any given moment of the album offers innumerable false starts, false endings, false detours; it's as if every cut wanted to be four or five different things at once. "Schrapnell" opens with guitars that simultaneously reference surf flicks and spaghetti westerns, but before long, Aaron Copland-style strings are signaling different American vistas; two minutes in, Kraftwerkian blips are doing battle with '60s tambourines. "My Hi-Matic" begins with chugging synthesizers that wouldn't be out of place on a Kompakt record, but the chord progressions sound more like the theme song to CHiPs -- and that's before an electronic horn section provides a 16-bar bridge that sounds like a fanfare for the second coming, ecstatic and sad and all-consuming.

Müller's considerable skill is in resolving these contradictions without foreclosing them, letting all the battling voices have their say. His triumphs are many -- I can think of no other artist in any genre, for instance, who can best his sense of timbre -- but one of his greatest accomplishments is to prove that electronic dance music, for all its repetitions, need not mire itself in compositional ruts, eight predictable bars at a time. In Isolée's world, inspiration is a bolt from the blue, and if it arrives in mid-chord progression, well, so much for those chords. Wearemonster is a Darwinian disc, the music of invisible hands guiding unexpected developments. Let "Intelligent Dance Music," in all its wonky anal-retentiveness, be the soundtrack for Intelligent Design; this is pure evolution. It's irrational, inefficient even, but it works, and it works wonders.

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