Successful concept albums are difficult to pull off, but the new album from Berlin’s Lakker beats the odds. The scope is ambitious: the relationship between the Dutch and water. The sources are original: only vintage field recordings and TV and radio broadcasts are used, as requested by the surprising commissioners, the RE:VIVE Initiative. And yet, despite what one might envision from such a setup, the sound remains pure Lakker: dark, moody and electronic. One can credit the sheer volume of available samples, which the duo likens to “having the biggest second hand record store in the world to play with.” While poring over the sources, they focused on “mechanical rhythms from little machines and cogs”, finding “rhythms within rhythms” that became the backbone of the recording, enhanced by foghorns, radio dialogue and the sound of water.
The dominant image is that of the St. Martin’s Flood of 1686 and the submerged steeple of St. Mary. It would be easy to interpret the entire album as the approaching storm (which struck at night, unpredicted) followed by the unprecedented loss of life and land, and finally the aftermath. But other stories are at play here as well: a Nazi attack in 1945 and the infamous flood of 1953. The violence of “Maeslantkering Gating” is in opposition to its title, which refers to a storm barrier; one expert, noting that the entire area is below sea level, jokes that the Dutch are “digging their own graves,” which makes the leaking water of the ending fully foreboding.
“So, are you all afraid of dying?” the duo asks a tour guide. The answer is no; the majority of the current generation knows flooding only from history, rather than from experience. But storm or no storm, war or no war, “the water is always rising.” Ian McDonnell and Dara Smith (Lakker) attempt to fuse threat and reconciliation, seeking the same sort of harmony in their music as that which is found in the always threatened, but seldom fearful populace. They accomplish this through quieter tracks such as “Emergo”, offering a light ambience beneath the beats, a soothing reassurance that if all has not always been well and will not always be well, it is at least well for the moment. The fact that this track is followed by a post-Nazi radio broadcast, accompanied by harsh static bursts, is crucial to the understanding of the cycle: struggle and emerge.
The duo’s enthusiasm for the subject matter comes across in the documentary, which eliminates any idea of the duo itself as dark. Instead, they seem intelligent, energetic and approachable. They are quick to point out that no one “reads” a concept album for the background, but that they hope their music will lead listeners to delve into the history. In this they succeed. Last year’s Tundra was a solid collection, but Struggle & Emerge is a statement strong enough to inspire interest outside of the album: a laudable achievement for one of electronic music’s newest luminary acts. (Richard Allen)