Ewan Pearson: Fabric 35

[30 October 2007]

By John Bergstrom

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

Although he’s been a respected artist/mixer/producer for a decade now, Pearson has become a mainstream fixture only in the last few years. Compared to a lot of techno/electronic artists, his output is relatively small—a couple solo albums, scattered singles under different aliases (Maas being the most common), some well-chosen remixes. But those remixes have been very successful, revealing Pearson as a man who can add club credibility to a track without dumbing it down or completely sacrificing its melodic structure. If you want an idea of what Pearson brings to the table, compare his remix of Röyksopp’s “49 Percent” with the original: It’s sharper, smarter, more interesting, more beat-driven; and, rare for a dance remix, more effective on an emotional level. Pearson’s smarts as a remixer have led to studio work with the Rapture, Gwen Stefani, and Tracey Thorn. He also helmed M83’s upcoming album.

Pearson is such a hot property as a mixer and producer, it’s easy to forget he’s also a DJ. This, his contribution to the much-respected British label Fabric’s mix series, joins his 2005 entry in Soma Records’ Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi series. Like a lot of British artists, Pearson has gained considerable creative inspiration from a relocation to Berlin. He’s now based in Germany, and Fabric 35 reflects it, drawing heavily on German labels like Careless, Klang, and Kompakt. The 15 tracks he’s chosen likewise move away from deep house into a heavier, more atmospheric, druggy sound. The press release opens with a mini-manifesto that lashes out at the current “minimal” trend in techno music and goes on to juxtapose Pearson’s more eclectic approach against it, using the term avant garde non-ironically.

The point is valid. Fabric 35 is nothing if not unique, singular, hard to pin down. It sounds like a mix someone with a postgraduate degree in philosophy, as Pearson has, would produce. It’s intense and cerebral, sometimes annoyingly so. You don’t listen to it just to dance, although it’s danceable enough. You certainly don’t listen to it for a Good Time. It’s a bit of an oddball, one you might not want to visit every day but one that by nature makes your record collection that much smarter.

Announcing itself with a series of powerful digital thuds, the hour-plus set establishes its moody, off-kilter tone with the dub-reggae inflections of Jahcoozi’s “Ali McBills”. A couple tracks later, you hit the one-note bassline, minor chord keyboards, and breathy male vocals of Gui.tar’s “Push in the Bush”, which could be an outtake from Love & Rockets’ mid-90s foray into electronica. From there, the electro-funk bassline and throwback disco siren of Snax’s “Honeymoon’s Over” suggests what Prince could be up to these days were he not chasing his past. These tracks have about as little in common as it seems, save the fact that none is a straight-up 4/4 house track. Pearson, however, makes it work, effortlessly melding them together into an atmospheric mini-suite. The segues are so subtle you hardly notice them, and you begin to feel you’re really onto something special.

But then Pearson outdoes himself a bit for the next 20 minutes or so, beginning with the percussive techno-gamelan music of Jens Zimmermann’s “Tranquillité”. Here starts an odyssey that travels through the neo-Moroder pulsation of Lee Burridge and Dan F’s “Treat ‘em Mean, Keep ‘em Keen”, the paranoid tech-house of 100 Hz’s underground classic “Trustlove”, and more, gradually becoming more abstract as it goes. By the time it reaches Laven & MSO’s “Looking for God”, which is really not much more than a pattern of angry, flanged-out notes played on an analog synth, your ears may be a bit confused—and worn out. Pearson never loses control, but this stretch sounds restless and unsettled nonetheless.

Pearson recovers, though, for the mix’s final third, which goes heavy on the ‘80s-referencing electrohouse and techno. In particular, Kaos’s “Panopeeps” is the perfect soundtrack in search of a dark, neo-noir sci-fi film. Even the mix’s lone mash-up and final curveball, Aril Brikhas’s “Berghain” atop the Carl Craig mix of Beanfield’s “Tides”, works within the context. Whether Pearson meant the set to work like a series of three movements is hard to know, but it certainly plays that way. At its best, it highlights Pearson’s sharp ear as well as his eye for obscure German record labels. Fabric 35 is ideal for blasting from a huge soundsystem in a darkened, smoke-filled club, where it’s sure to stand out and, more often than not, stand tall.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/ewan-pearson-fabric-35/