Symbolic use of the labyrinth dates back millennia. Its image has been found on Bronze Age petroglyphs, and its presence graces myths from all corners of the ancient and modern world. Labyrinths can symbolize liberation and escape, the pursuit of knowledge, or the journey through memory. This last route is the one Basic Rhythm has ventured down on Electronic Labyrinth; a deeply personal exploration of the spatiotemporal strands of the London producer’s musical identity.
Electronic Labyrinth’s cover photo is of St. Fabian Tower, a now-demolished tower block in north London where Basic Rhythm (real name: Anthoney Hart) played as a DJ on the Rude FM pirate radio station. The analogue grit of the photograph possesses real texture and depth, the rich blue of the sky contrasting starkly with the sharp concrete of the decaying tower block. The idealistic photo could almost be imagined; the dreamy summer day, the warm texture of the film, it’s as though Hart has nostalgically conjured the image from within his own mental labyrinth.
The tower block also mirrors the formality of Electronic Labyrinth. Hart has described his sonic aesthetic as ‘modernist hardcore’, and St. Fabian Tower, with its brutalist architectural design, could easily be described by this tag. This synergy between the music and modernist architecture can be heard in the sharp, angular funk of “Larkin’ Around”, which recalls modernism’s horizontal and vertical geometry. It’s also heard in the unfussy simplicity of “Techno”, which shares the aesthetic’s lack of ornamentation, and the skeletal “Palace of the Peacock”, which is likewise content to display its inner workings and structural composition.
There’s something strangely fragile about the composition of Electronic Labyrinth. Not fragile as in brittle, but fragile as in slippery, fleeting even. Simple synth motifs disappear as quickly as they appear (“Hayward Road”) or swirl around in the backdrop of the mix like ghostly echoes (“Techno”). The beats of opener “Craft” are stuttered and fractured, collapsing into a broken metallic repetition, while the drums of “Larkin’ Around” stumble and lurch, tripping over themselves and the squelching synths. This fluidity suggests a fragmentation as if Hart’s influences (or memories of his influences) are being mentally shuffled like a deck of cards.
This isn’t to say that the tracks don’t function as standalone works. The title track is especially strong, layering a hazy and colorful synth atop the angular drums and diving bass, seemingly approximating Electronic Labyrinth’s cover photo. The synths are the lush sky and the drums and bass, the harsh concrete of the tower block. “Techno” is another excellent cut, with an opening that recalls the heavier end of the Berlin style of techno but then subverts it with a lack of structural payoff and odd, 1990s video game-like panpipe synths.
The highlight of the album, however, is “The Secret Ladder”. A truly, mysterious and oblique four minutes, it’s washed with a liquid crackle of the kind Burial has previously put to such marvelous, hauntological use. The most startling and straight-up eerie moment on Electronic Labyrinth, the track manages to capture the sensation of existential distress, as if trying to recall a cherished memory but knowing that it’s decaying somewhere in the crevices of consciousness.
Electronic Labyrinth takes time to appreciate. Nothing comes immediately; it requires repeated listens and sharp concentration. However, as an approximation of a journey through a musician’s psyche, it works quite miraculously. Shades of drum and bass, techno, and grime (Hart is perhaps most well-known for his East Man project) all appear but are warped and distorted via his cool, muscular production style. They are then filtered and fractured, dragging the listener down the mental labyrinth too. It’s a confounding maze, but following Basic Rhythm down, it is never anything but an engrossing excursion.