It’s always interesting when scenes are born, grow and try to find themselves and their own identities, especially when this involves border-crossing and modeling on foreign styles.
SCSI-9, aka Anton Kubikov and Maxim Milyutenko, has been a driving force on the Moscow scene for years, recording as Hero City Movers, Snowboarder and Snooker Boy, and DJing at now legendary techno clubs like Hermitage, hosting innovative radio shows—and gaining fame overseas, with international bookings at top clubs like Fabric in London. But like many artists of the budding Eastern electronic scene, SCSI-9 has gravitated towards the stability, reputation and extensive distribution network of German labels to release its records, among them Force Tracks (home to SCSI-9’s first long player Digital Russian), Traum Trapez and Freizeitglauben, all mainstays on particularly the Cologne tip of techno. Milyutenko also lived in Germany for years, working in oil and metal trading before becoming a sound engineer. All this adds to a recipe for a SCSI-9 sound which lies closest to that already showcased by a German techno scene, and one that has become steadily more productive and steadily less interesting in the past five years.
On The Line of Nine, Scape-style electrostatic pinches and spits are underpinned by Cologne/Oliver Hacke-type shuffling beats with tight little kick drums. Occasionally, a heavily thumping Berlin bass kicks in (“Elegia”) and synth floats (last spotted on early Underworld and mid-90s Carl Cox records) are also around. The sum total is straight-line minimalist techno, augmented by elements frequently heard before. On a few tracks, glockenspiel-sounds and pinball game-twirls are added R.yksopp-style, and “Morskaya” has a dark Detroit take reminiscent of themes from a James Bond videogame stalk-out on a nighttime trans-Siberian train. But all this is rather random, and with only the effect of disrupting the album’s flow. The playfulness is there, but it lacks passion.
The Line of Nine unfortunately lacks the drive of gripping songwriting—yes, there is such a thing even in techno—or intricate beat switches. So the album wears itself out fairly fast. The music is too linear, restrictingly efficient if you will, and uneventful to stay interesting for an entire album; a recurring situation at Kompakt and kindred labels, which have always been best for their 12-inch singles. The album appeal will rest with DJs who pick out one or two of the better tunes and leave the rest unplayed. Most interesting is the vocal title track, which veers into early Matthew Herbert territory and another vocal outing, Endlich. The instrumental techno height is “Little Leaves Fall”, with airy synth layers adding a fresh dimension to the music. “Albali” also throws in a cheeky little abrasive bassline, ala Mr Oizo.
So while The Line of Nine doesn’t have the finesse and engaging rhythms to become a classic album, there will be enough individual peaks to go around and this is still fine, technically precise production quality from a Moscow scene that shows much promise.