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White Noise: Benjamin Damage & Doc Daneeka – They!Live

Monday, 6 February 2012

Benjamin Damage & Doc Daneeka – They!Live

Label: 50 Weapons

No One



Crafting a long-player as a Dance producer must be a very difficult task, or so it seems as so many of them seem to get it wrong. Either an album ends up as a disparate collection of dance stompers or a meandering selection of sluggish instrumentals. One can conclude that making a dance album listenable and fluid is no mean feat, but here on their second release on 50 Weapons, Benjamin Damage and Doc Daneeka have pulled it off without a hitch. Around a year ago they put out the stellar Creeper single on Modeselektor’s label, and apparently the German boys liked it so much they invited the producers from Swansea to Berlin to craft an album. Why They!Live works so well is obviously partly down to the skill of the producers; these are slick, satisfying songs dissecting a range of genres while maintaining a cohesive and accessible style, but a lot of care has also been paid to sequencing and a careful balance of light and dark, slow and fast, to make this LP a surprising and significant triumph.

Across the album Damage and Daneeka draw from the obvious Berlin influences as well as ideas from Detroit and Dub-Techno, and more than passing references to Deep House and UK Funky, which is a broad and stimulating array to add to Creeper’s straight-cut dance chops. But fans of their previous 50 Weapons release will be surprised to not actually hear that many tunes here aimed at the dancefloor, as the pair take a very successful stab at moody electronic pieces that meld fluently with the more upbeat numbers on display. The album’s low-key opening few tracks are a surprise, with opener No One combining emotive synths, Burial-esque pitched down vocals and sharp percussion to craft a smooth and efficient tune that’s deeply atmospheric and surprisingly catchy. Second cut Battleships trades in similarly powerful atmospheric techniques; broad, darkened synth strokes and a powerfully melancholic vocal line that towards the end of the track is looped and allowed to echo out of existence in a beautiful moment that you’ll want to hear again.
The addition in these tracks of British vocalist Abigail Wyles is a great touch, as she brings a strong voice that highlights the soulfulness and emotive qualities of their compositions; a shred of humanity in a moody electronic soundscape only emphasises the contrast between the two and the skill with which the two producers craft their sounds. These home-listening cuts are very affecting and spread liberally across the album, and range in mood from the anaesthetised rush of the longing and beautiful Charlottenburg; all pacey synths, suppressed vocal cries and percussion rattling off into the distance, to Halo, the sublime follow-up where a huge ambient hum shifts chords magnificently beneath simple synth accents as a vocal line lies lost under layers of emotive effects. It’s powerful stuff, and fantastic considering the dull and lifeless non-dance cuts most other producers spread across their LPs.

I’ve paid all this attention to the less dancey numbers, but when Damage and Daneeka want to, they can conjure up a storm for the dancefloor. An abridged album edit of Creeper is the glittering centrepiece of the release, and it’s an exercise in simplicity; woozy synth-lines take centre stage in varying degrees of iridescence, accompanied by punchy beats and detailed effects keeping the sound interesting. Elsewhere Deaf Siren deals in knife-edge tension referencing the London scene’s masters of dark 2step, with clipped vocals and sharp claps punctuating a nervy, unstable soundfield. On the other end of the album Juggernaut is a heads-down growler, with sharp synth stabs and a vocal line perfectly manipulated into place. These dancier cuts build but never quite take off, it seems they’ve been produced with a certain restraint so as to fit with the rest of the songs on the album, and it’s a tactic that pays off. There’s a great sense of ebb and flow, not only from song to song but also within individual tracks, as the producers deftly balance both pacing and light against dark to ensure a continually varied listening experience. Some of this is also down to the sequencing and the fairly pared-down 9-song tracklist, which means that not only is each track a joy, but the listener is also left looking forward to each tune in turn.

All of this said, there’s nothing in the individual songs here that’s going to break any moulds. The production is always efficient and strong, particularly on the standout numbers such as Creeper, Charlottenburg and Halo, but perhaps these two producers spend too much time referencing other genres to actually craft a really innovative sound of their own. On the other hand, their subdued and darkened approach lends each song a real cohesion within the whole, and They!lLive is a masterclass on how a dance album should be put together, making it not an essential purchase but a very impressive release; continuing a long run of successful output from Modeselektor’s 50 Weapons label. I’m definitely impressed by the tunes on display here, and hope that future collaborations will bring even loftier success.


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