German label raster-noton has been quietly building an empire of astute dance floor and headphone wizards; amassing producers with a progressive bent to their love of heavy techno music. Producers who are not content to hit for par or sail the known course of safety and calm waters. Producers who want to challenge the load-bearing capacity of your speakers, and your hips. So, if raster-noton is a burgeoning techno armada, growing in parallel to the early rise of Ninja Tune, then Kyoka is the Neotropic to Kangding Ray’s Amon Tobin in the raster-noton canon. But I would hesitate at making any further direct comparisons to Riz Maslin’s Ninja alter ego.
On Is (Is Superpowered), Berlin-based and Japan-born Kyoka offers a brilliant bouquet of flavors and influences. There is the kosmische cut-up flow of Jan Jelinek wed to the heavy dance floor deconstructions of Andy Stott, but a bit more playful (less apocalyptic?)…as if touched by Mr. Oizo’s mystical yellow puppet. This is a fun record, but not in the sense that it doesn’t take itself seriously as a valid musical statement away from the dance floor. There can be an introspective, earnest academic endeavor to the play involved in making music. I love how on “Lined Up” she allows the thump-crushing heft of industrial techno consume dancehall lyricism until it is just an indiscernible spiral of syllabic stuttering in the background. Then, “Rot Neu” runs into “Rollin & Tumblin” with a familial seamlessness, that can only be matched, so far this year, by the first two tracks on the new Liars album. The dub-echoed atmospherics of “Rot Neu” can’t undo the clear 4/4 relation to “Rollin & Tumblin”. “Rot Neu” might be the clearest descendent of Andy Stott’s elephantine approach, but with a bit of a step-trot to it as it careens into “Rollin…”, which buzzes and hums in a small army of nanobots meticulously building rhythmic walls to imprison you in dancing rapture. The track doesn’t shift focus for the entire 4 minutes and 10 seconds, because it doesn’t need to. In fact, any severe movement would detract from its effectiveness at capturing your dancing body as its prey.
Kyoka’s hard, yet sprightly stylings are delightfully relentless. Phonemes, just beyond recognition as words, akin to the fevered syllables of recurring childhood nightmares, creep in and alight at their chance to mingle within the borders of the still protected sanctuary that is wonder. Those “lyrics” pierce your subconscious web of defense until you realize their intent is primarily jocund.
My favorite left turn on the record comes with “Piezo Version Vision”, which is an incidental act of pure, thrashing defiance against the patriarchy of techno music. She absolutely murders high tempo jungle-isms and sets Alec Empire’s already extant rage afire in a conflagration of distortion-encrusted snare hits during a six minute exorcism wherein she firmly claims her place amongst some of the most interesting new producers around.
So, it would be fitting if Kyoka, through the surprisingly accessible, yet deeply thoughtful Is (Is Superpowered), could be the one to launch raster-noton into a larger orbit in the neighborhood of Ninja Tune. It seems entirely possible, as this album has that rare breed of crossover appeal that maintains “authenticity” to the underground kids, yet offers palatability to a wider audience beyond the clubs, the 5 am dance parties, and the niche festivals. This is a challenging album in many ways, but most importantly that it will challenge a new audience base for the hard, heavy bass-rumbling sounds I know I love and wish more did.