[14 April 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Magda is a Polish-born DJ who grew up in Texas, New York City, and Detroit. She came to fame under the wing of Richie Hawtin, aka Plastikman, who himself relocated from England to Canada as a child. Hawtin’s home of Windsor, Ontario, is right across the Detroit River from the Motor City, and both Hawtin and Magda were influenced by the stark yet powerful sound of original Detroit techno.
You can either thank or blame producers like Hawtin and Magda, and Hawtin’s Minus label, for helping create and popularize the “minimal” techno sound. Or maybe both. In the mid-1990s, minimal was a fresh alternative to the busy, frenetic sounds of “big beat” and drum’n’bass. But now the onetime sub-genre seems to be more the rule than the exception, with diminishing returns. A case in point is Magda’s addition to the esteemed Fabric series of mixes. It’s solid and well-crafted. You can hear Magda’s painstaking effort to make sure everything sounds just so. Yet it doesn’t make you want to do anything more than shrug or, occasionally, nod your head softly. This is head music, alright. Music to do math to.
Magda has said Fabric 49 was inspired by the often harrowing, heavily atmospheric music of vintage Italian horror movie soundtracks. She intended her mix to play out like one of these soundtracks as well, and in some ways it does. Abstract, sometimes chilling sound effects snake their way through the mix, and doomy minor chords are prevalent. But soundtrack music is by nature background music, designed to complement the action on the screen but rarely overtake it. The main problem with Fabric 49 is there’s nothing for it to enhance. While it’s atmospheric, the atmosphere alone never develops an identity and can’t sustain interest. Magda has put together an impressive roster of like-minded artists, about half of them from the Minus label. Still, while it’s much better to dance to, Fabric 49 can’t match the beauty, intensity, and diversity of Italian soundtrack heroes like Goblin and Riz Ortolani, though Goblin are featured on a couple tracks.
Magda’s style is nothing if not intricate and well-balanced. To her credit, Magda hasn’t rushed things as so many DJ mixes do. Each of the 15 tracks is given plenty of room to breathe, with nothing clocking in at less than a few minutes. Each track on Fabric 49 is actually a combination of two or three cuts, mixed together into one piece. To call these “mash-ups” would be inaccurate, because there aren’t many vocals and Magda’s selections transcend novelty.
While this set-up makes discussing individual tracks nearly impossible, there are a couple relative standouts. Not surprisingly, Goblin helps provides one of these. The 1970s prog-rockers-turned-soundtrack-maestros provide the creepy detuned piano and off-kilter synths, while Magda’s own, aptly-titled “Moroder’s Revenge” supplies the synth arpeggio and pulsing, dark disco bassline. The Swiss duo Yello are one of the more fascinating yet often-overlooked pioneers of conceptual, heavily atmospheric electronic music. Magda gives them the props they deserve, though, citing them as a major influence and pairing their coyly forceful “Heavy Whispers” from 1983 with Marc Houle’s contemporary “Profounding”. Forgoing the usual “comedown” finale, Magda instead closes the mix with Jimmy Edgar’s “Beat Squared”/Jan Jelinek’s “Tierbeobachtungen”, whose punchy rhythm and synth blasts clearly nod back to the vintage sounds of Detroit, as well as Factory Records’ Be Music productions of the 1980s. These tracks have a sense of purpose all their own, one that functions outside the virtual soundtrack setting and one the rest of Fabric 49 is lacking.
Taken as a whole, Fabric 49 is one of those mixes that is more admirable than it is truly enjoyable. Fans of Minus and minimal techno in general will find plenty of previously-unreleased tracks and unsigned producers here, and movie producers should take note, too. There’s a fine soundtrack out there in search of a good, smart horror film.