Last year, XL turned a strongly worded email from perennial asshole/underground icon, Steve Albini, into a promotional billboard in East London. The email was in response to Diagonal label-head, Powell’s request for sample clearance but ended up being much more than that. What Powell received as a response was a pointed criticism from Albini of everything dance music oriented.
“I am absolutely the wrong audience for this kind of music. I’ve always detested mechanized dance music, its stupid simplicity, the clubs where it was played, the people who went to those clubs, the drugs they took, the shit they liked to talk about, the clothes they wore, the battles they fought amongst each other…
Basically all of it: 100 percent hated every scrap.”
I have nothing to go on here, but I assume Albini hadn’t taken the time to listen to any of Powell’s music. If he had, the lineage connecting Albini’s bands, Big Black and Shellac, with Powell’s newest release would have been more than evident. On Sport, the London producer makes a mutated Franken-genre pieced together from shards of post-punk, electro, and avant-noise. It’s a disorienting listen, and one that reflects the past four decades of underground music in a way that flaunts the warts of damaged gear and the stench of stale beer in a practice space. TB-303 acid squelches giveaway to cut-up drum patches interwoven with rough-edged samples of foul-mouthed dialogue. Tempos begin to collapse or switch gears without reason. The entire album seems ready to collapse at the seams. This is punk rock for the iPhone generation. With half-cooked track names such as “FiT_17”, “Gone A Bit Bendy [NTS Chatroom Version]”, and “Beat 20_194r”, you’d be forgiven for thinking someone just cracked open their hard drive and let their Logic files loose on the world.
The two most accessible points of entry may also be two of the album’s leading characters; “Jonny” and “Frankie”. “Jonny” offers stuttering vocals over a swaggering rhythm guitar and mangled punk rock solo. It may be the closest thing to registering as “sexy” on this album. It’s counterpart, “Frankie” rides a twitchy electro groove in a manner that recalls the heyday of acts like Simian Mobile Disco. On “Plastic” an interviewer tries to provoke her subject underneath some muffled laughter. “People say that you’re a bitch… Do you think of yourself as being very negative? Do hate everything?”. The sample is later fractured and scattered over a minimal 4/4 kick drum and a half second metal guitar solo. That interview eventually gets trimmed down until it becomes a malicious refrain, “You’re a bitch.” The track could be seen as being a summation of the album itself; playful, curious, and cruel.
While Jamie xx created a nostalgic collage piece to rave culture with last year’s In Colour, Powell is pulling a different trick here. By splicing together disparate samples within industrial and punk circles, Powell isn’t just weaving a tapestry for his heroes in Throbbing Gristle and Suicide, he’s contributing to the tradition as well. There simply isn’t anything being made like this out there. It would lazy to call this electro-punk, being that it only seems to be the context in which it was recorded. With that being said, I don’t think I’ve listened to an album in 2016 that better manifests the spirit of “punk”. Steve Albini should take note.