Roche: ‘Modern Intensity’

A new set from the San Francisco producer channels late-'90s techno.

It was sometime around 2008 when San Francisco producer Ben Winans, better known to his fans as Roche, started listening to the American DJ and producer Theo Parrish and the French house avatars Daft Punk. It was also around this time that Winans — who cut his teeth making and playing hip-hop in the early aughts — turned toward the dance floor.

For most of the 2000s Winans production techniques leaned heavily on samplers, but as he spent more time with electronic dance music — and at Amnesia’s O.K. Hole party — he developed a newfound passion for elongated sound structures and the entrancing, hypnotic power of repetitive loops.

And so, after stocking up on a small arsenal of drum machines and synths, Winans pivoted away from dicing up all the rock, funk, disco, and jazz joints he’d amassed throughout his years of crate-digging — and, instead of zeroing in on a single, singular groove, he began drawing inspiration from the overall production aesthetic of the artists in his record collection.

On “90s Bliss State,” the second track off of Winan’s new five-song Modern Intensity project, Roche takes a seven-minute deep dive into late-’90s minimalist techno.

Named after the constant feeling of “impending doom coming from climate change, the fall of our economy, [and] blatantly racist world leaders wreaking havoc” Modern Intensity is stacked to the rafters with flanged-out synth patterns, and conjures a sense of nostalgia for a less complicated time — back when the producers presiding over SoMa warehouse parties coaxed sprawling sets out of a mess of analog drum machines, turntables, and tangled cables, rather than sleek, brushed aluminum Macbooks.

Assembling this project on the lable “Last Faith Studio” was a big deal for Winans.

“Last is David Last, a good friend and an amazing producer who has worked with many talented artists over the years; Faith is Chelsea Faith, a.k.a. Cherushii, my DJ partner who passed in the Oakland Ghostship Fire — an amazing producer in her own right and a wonderful human being. I wanted to honor my friend and pick out stuff that I know both of them would be into.”

With a healthy flow of releases on the ICEE HOT, Jacktone, 100% Silk, Mathematics, Perfect Location Recordings, Hobo Camp and Vinyl Dreams imprints, coupled with a steady amount of gigs through China, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, and Barcelona, Winans has been building steadily toward this moment since 2012.

Shifting through weather patterns like a color wheel, the droning hypnotic melody of “90s Bliss State” ties all pre-millennium tensions together by groove, lumbering toward that 3 a.m. sweat. With the remainder of the EP, Roche doles out, to our benefit, more or less of the same. Melodies keep pressure, never letting up the tension, in doom-glorious fashion on the swift track. Psychedelic hysteria plus midnite funk runs coolly for six-plus minutes of flicker groove authority. “All Things Before and All things After,” a bit less intense, finds the producer attach a dub filter to the chaotic bump and thistle, so clicks and synthy organ take up as much real estate in the mix as the stirring yammer running throughout. Finishing off the three-song comedown, “Sunrise With the Homies” is reminiscent of a 7 a.m. DJ set the sound of the ocean faintly audible  directly to your earbuds. Fashioning 808’s at reduced power, with melodies tugging and then fading off like the water’s undertow, Roche, at this moment, constructs his own ambient Eno-Esque moment utilizing the full range of atmospheric ephemera.

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