[30 May 2014]
There aren’t many producers working with the electronic music industry that can honestly claim that they are truly original. Skam Records’ VHS Head is one of these people. Crafting his schizophrenic beats purely from sampling vintage VHS tapes, Ade Blacow’s second album aptly titled Persistence of Vision persists with the vision he first explored on his debut LP Trademark Ribbons of Gold—that being funky, exploratory sketchbook electronics all wrapped up within a nostalgic bubble of fuzzy, analogue warmth.
The baffling and challenging world he has created (and it is truly a world) is a twisted lo-fi place inhabited by bad game show hosts, cheesy advert jingles, video nasties, retro porn twangs and as vast an array of instruments and sounds as I have heard on one project in an extremely long time.
Much like the label mates Boards of Canada’s recent masterpiece Tomorrow’s Harvest, Blacow’s LP is dusty and sun-warped with a noirish edge, tone and feel. He perverts his sounds so far out of the context they were first designed for, that the resultant mix of influences and sounds brings to mind a dystopian, steampunk future where mind-numbing, trash TV serves to stupefy its bonded population in order to keep the ‘proles’ down. And in that sense, the album is far darker than it would have been had he chosen to take his tunes down the tried-and-tested “the longer the note, the more dread,” aesthetic.
The album plays on this idea of conflict and the juxtaposition of light and dark—with jolly major scale melodies rubbing shoulders with dark, pitched down vocal iterations, brutish scraps of mechanical sound, simple toned 80s style synthesis and Linn drum electro. Blacow wrings melodies out of disparate snatches of sounds and welds the results over a variety of differing percussive beds and beats. Opening number “Enter The Devil” recalls the sleazy, barbed, hyperactive, glitched-out IDM workouts of Jackson and His Computer Band, whilst “Red Ocean Apocalypse” channels dark-n-dusty, sun-soaked, video-nasty pastoral vibes, whilst tunes like “Body Magic” combine twinkly arpeggios with lo-fi electro beats.
The stand out track for me on the album is the closer, “Angels Never Sleep” – probably the most restrained number on the album. Utilising a crunchy, bit-crushed/tape saturated beat with a funky, elastic bassline and a compelling, dusty melody the tune comes across as a lost tome from the early volumes of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop that sounds as fresh today as it did back then (in VHS Head’s re-imagined past that is.)
All things said the album is a massive breath of fresh air. Its dusty and warm, but twisted and dark at the same time. Its confused yet cogent; hyperactive yet reflective; simple but extremely complicated. In short Blacow has done a great job at persisting with his vision.
By limiting himself to making music out of VHS tapes only, VHS Head has carved himself out an extremely unique nice in the fast mutating ever changing world of electronic music. His signature sound owes as much to his singular creative vision as it does to the unique, fuzzy tones inherently imparted to audio embedded within video tape. With thousands of cookie cutter artist emerging from the wings every day, VHS Head’s Persistence of Vision serves as an antidote to the mundanity of modern day music production, in the process showing the world he is much, much more than a clever gimmick.