PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Konx-om-Pax's 'Ways of Seeing' Returns to the Optimistism of Berlin Techno's Origins

Photo: Alicja Khatchikian / Planet Mu

On Ways of Seeing, electronic producer and visual artist Konx-om-Pax moves away from dark ambient and rave to melodic electronica, alluding to the roots of Berlin techno.

Ways of Seeing
Konx-om-Pax

Planet Mu

14 June 2019

In the 1980s, black artists from Detroit explored futurism through a blend of electro, Chicago house, and funk. That was the birth of techno. At the end of the decade, the techno wave made its way to Berlin, fortuitously in the home country of one of Detroit techno's main influences, Kraftwerk. As the Berlin Wall fell in 1991, this migration came at an opportune time. The resulting abundance of abandoned buildings made perfect spaces for illegal raves, and the youth was invigorated by the reunification of Germany. So, the origin of Berlin techno not only entails a certain sound but a great feeling of community and optimism.

Electronic producer and visual artist Tom Scholefield, aka Konx-om-Pax, recalls this optimism on his latest album Ways of Seeing. The 11-track album embodies his relocation from Glasgow to Berlin, inspiring a shift from dense ambient and rave to minimal electronica. Yet, while Scholefield adopts the minimal structures of Berlin techno, he rejects its recent tones that have become bleaker and more industrial. Rather, he revels in joyous melodic arpeggios, alluding to the roots of Berlin techno.

Scholefield explains that Ways of Seeing is "a panacea to the darkness and disorientation all around in 2019". With titles such as "Optimism Over Despair", this message is clear. And on this track, melodies move frenetically, from open to close. Each lush arpeggio thrusts into another without suspension, demanding an endless dance. Even throwing in the classic "Woo! Yeah!" drum break, vivid images of 1990s hedonists presume.

These allusions to the origins of Berlin techno are spread throughout Ways of Seeing. On "Paris 5am", birds chirp atop hopping synths, as if the birdsongs signal the morning-close to an open-air rave. On "Earthly Delights", the atmosphere is muffled while the kicks punch through as if we're waiting outside the doors of an abandoned warehouse. These scenic moments capture the emergence of Berlin techno. It is an homage to the communal efforts of those youths, developing and celebrating their own subculture.

Of course, Ways of Seeing is not entirely a rip of an original sound. Scholefield twists the origins of Berlin techno to reflect his vision, sometimes guided by collaborations. For instance, the opener "LA Melody" came while staying at the Los Angeles home of Hudson Mohawke and also chilling with Lunice. The hip-hop influence is clearly found in its ad-lib sample and trilling beat, a combination that can also be heard on the cut "Rez". Moreover, the closer "The Paleontologist", with its brittle keys and melodramatic pads, sounds more like an intro to a 1970s TV program than a Berlin rave.

Coincidently, the album title adopts its name from the 1972 BBC program Ways of Seeing, Scholefield tells PopMatters. On this four-part series, John Berger urges his audience to reconsider Eurocentric perspectives and dominant theories of aesthetics. The first episode explores how the mass-mediation of art reproduces aesthetics and thereby transforms its meaning. Referencing Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Berger explains that once art is reframed, its meaning becomes politicized and consequently easily manipulated. Ways of Seeing, then, explains art not as a static object to gaze at, but rather as a dynamic, communal, discursive tool that entails great responsibility for artists, disseminators, and audiences.

The album's connections to Berger's series is unclear. On his interview with Psst, Scholefield descriptions of his music are inextricable from his visual work. Then, perhaps the album is only a part of the answer, and his live shows will entail better connections. Regardless, Scholefield is trying to disseminate a certain message in his reproductions. Ways of Seeing vividly develops a memory or perhaps reimagining of Berlin techno's origins. While the current techno scenes reflect the dark and downtrodden times, Scholefield recalls the optimistic sounds of Berlin. Certainly, both approaches to music as discourse are necessary and can coexist.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.