“U.E.F is a failed attempt at making a techno track that ended up becoming an Oscillation album. I’m pretty much completely ignorant about dance music but re-listening to a few Plastikman tracks quite obsessively for a few weeks, combined with long-term exposure to Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze rubbed off after a while.”
Those familiar with Demian Castellanos’ previous work would be aware of his preoccupation with electronics, and his seemingly constant restlessness in finding new sounds and new angles. These have often diverged through his various personas. The Oscillation, probably his best known project, has usually been been through a lens that could broadly be described as ‘rock’. By that I mean songs that at least pay lip service to more ‘traditional’ structures, although these things are obviously relative. His ‘solo’ work, particularly recent releases has been marked more by longer less structurally formed music that are above all explorations of sound.
As such I probably would not have brought the two together in one single review before because they represent quite different parts of the artist’s repertoire… perhaps interesting for comparison… but not organically coherent. In the past it would have felt like I was pushing the two together for the sake of it. Here, however, we see a convergence between the two which is both interesting and compelling.
Taking The Oscillation album first. I would not have guessed that U.E.F. began life as Castellanos’s attempt at techno purely from the evidence of listening to the album, which comprises two twenty two minute tracks. But with his prompt I can begin to see how that might be the case. The first track, ‘Flight Sequence’, begins in a low key manner drawing the listener in in quite a subtle way with an ambient drone before exploding into a mind rippling electronic beat that feels at the same time familiar and yet also utterly contemporary. Yes there are elements of techno in there when you listen to it, although not the throbbing bass end of the genre. Rather the track feels more arranged and composed that most techno I’ve listened to, and actually it feels like there are many different genres at work here, as Castellanos alludes to in the above quotation.
It’s not my usual MO to go down that rabbit hole though because I’m more comfortable describing how this music feels. I have to say that the more you listen to ‘Flight Sequence’ the more you realise that it is a fairly heavy piece of work. I mean this in at least three senses: Firstly in what perhaps is the more usual sense in that this is a deceptively heavy in terms of the beats which, while not deep, do get into your brain. Gone is the fuzziness that has marks much of The Oscillation’s output… this is a relatively cleaner sound.
Second, this is heavy in terms of the it being a really substantial piece of work. It feels like a journey, and holds the listener’s attention throughout with its modulations and changes of tone. In some ways it feels like a movement of a larger work, and you could imagine it being extended further with variations around the themes developed here. Thirdly, its heavy in terms of its dark seriousness. For me The Oscillation has always been a dark band, something that in the past has been expressed through sonorous basslines and intense & veiled sounds. Here the darkness is converted by the unremitting beats and wailing synths.
This latter part is continued on the second track, ‘U.E.F.’, which is less marked by the strong central beats of ‘Flight Sequence’, although they are still present farther down the mix, and instead represent an even darker take of, as the press release suggests, a post-human technological dystopia; where only the machines remain. This is music that is dominated by bleak and fatalistic drones until a good nine minutes into the track where something approaching a more recognisable structure kicks in with synths and drums dominating, although there is a trace element of guitar that is also in there. What emerges is a complex melange of sounds that takes its time to gel in you mind. When listening to it closely it felt a bit like hacking my way through some sonic undergrowth in order to clear a aural pathway through the music. In this sense ‘U.E.F.’ is the more challenging of the two pieces, yet ultimately more rewarding. There’s so much here to work your way through… and that in my book is the mark of a good listen.
After that epic journey I wanted to kick back and chill, let what I had just heard take time to settle and really zone out. This is where Castellanos’s latest solo release ‘The KYVU Tapes Volume 2’ came in. Although originally conceived in the nineties, these are sounds that certainly don’t feel out of date and, in my view, you can really hear the germs of the ‘U.E.F.’ album in the eight tracks that make up this album. These have been selected from a larger body of work that are comprised principally of drones and electronic flourishes that show from where he has emerged, and interestingly it was some of those ambient groups of the 1990s such as The ORB, FSOL and Orbital, that I thought that I heard particularly in ‘Flight Sequence’, and this would also lend the techno flavour to the sound. All the tracks here have a real beauty to them that help clear your mind and really just be in the moment. I found listening to the album alone in the dark really took me somewhere else… to nowhere, a nowhere where I just was… in stasis… nothing to see and everything to experience… a sonic disconnection that surely we all need sometimes.
In many ways, then ‘The KYVU Tapes’ represents a sort of low key version of ‘U.E.F.’, and I think that them being released around the same time is rather fortunate (I’m not sure whether it was deliberately planned given they are coming out on different labels) because listening to the two together gives the listener much more than the sum of their parts. They feel like two sides of the same dark psychological coin, a dual-surfaced black mirror… perhaps a fragment from the monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey… a tenebrous look into a future malaise… but also a reflection of the self. Either way a deep and ultimately revealing sonic experience.
Looking at these two releases together gives a real insight into Demian Castellanos’s music. For me it shows that in many ways ‘U.E.F.’ might be something of a realisation of work that he has been considering for many years, perhaps a realisation of these tapes that he recorded twenty years ago that only now feel right to reveal. As such I would say that both these releases are essential for those who have followed his career. For those who have not, they provide a compelling introductions to his works… both experimental in their own ways, and one a patient realisation of the other. Above all, though, they show Castellanos to be an talented composer of dark and perspicacious music that above all empowers the listener to reflect and review.
‘U.E.F.’ is released by Fuzz Club Records on 2nd March 2018, and is available for preorder here.
‘The KYVU Tapes Volume 2’ is released by Cardinal Fuzz on 26th February 2018, and is available for pre-order here.