Cornwall DJ Luke Vibert is an electro-nostalgist. He has always been one to mill the past of electronic sound for foundational imprints that he can translate for a modern music audience. His Wagon Christ project compiled the lot of his obsessions (children’s records, funk, moog exotica) and distilled them into an oddball gestalt that positioned the project (perhaps partly thanks to his association with his Cornwall mate Richard D. James) far too leftfield of the trip-hop and downtempo music being championed at the time. Later, he lassoed together a string of discarded artifacts from the ’60s and ’70s electro-pop library music past in the form his Nuggets series, much to delight of archivists everywhere. Those sounds and more popped up Vibert’s Yoseph album, but the LP became perhaps most iconic for its mantric song “I Love Acid”, which may have spearheaded a renewed interest in the twisted 808/303 tweaks of Acid House. Even more recently, he has put out an Italo-disco disc as Kerrier District and joined forces with early Moog pioneer/programming lynchpin/Disney parade composer Jean-Jacques Perrey for a collaborative album.
Yet, as Gutterbreakz once remarked, “no matter how much Vibert exhumes from the past, the end results always sound like nothing else but Vibert”. It’s odd then to find that 15 years after exploding onto the scene, Vibert has finally come around to being nostalgic for himself.
Rodulate is an assemblage of previous unreleased tracks with partner and occasional “spiritual advisor” Jeremy Simmonds. It’s also their first commercially available collaboration since the Vibert/Simmonds release Weirs in 1993, which predates any of Vibert’s other projects. There’s no telling where in the historical canon of Vibert these tracks fall, but style alone would point to an era not long after the recording of Weirs.
“Why now?” must almost certainly be the question on anyone’s mind who sits down with Rodulate. An unfortunate side effect of being close to James (whose Rephlex Records put out both Weirs and Rodulate) is that you often begin to half-expect spillover onto associates like Vibert from James’s own self-mythologizing anti-PR, which credits works that aren’t his as his own creation (The Tuss, Black Devil) and repudiates projects that likely are his (Q-Chastic, Bradley Strider). One might speculate that the material of Rodulate is not a series antiquated and forgotten relics at all, but new material cooked up upon Simmonds’s return to music two years back with his Voafose record. It would explain what Simmonds was up to all these years (he assisted the drum ‘n’ bass outfit Boymerang briefly during the late ’90s, but the depth of his role is unknown). His disappearance from recorded sound even caused some to conjecture that Simmonds was simply another invention of James’s, and that Weirs was an original Vibert work.
Regardless of the reason why, we now have another 12 tracks by Vibert/Simmonds. While the analogue experimentation of Weirs sounds more prescient than ever, Rodulate is a slightly rusty amulet with archaic engineering, an unearthed work in progress designated complete by way of a remaster.
It’s an assorted carton of eggs in Vibert’s and Simmonds’s basket, straddling the delicate tight rope of antiquated proficiency and dispensable completism. There’s only a few tracks where the boys fall completely on their faces, but those remaining songs display none of the meticulous studio wizardry for which Vibert is known and hailed, the kind that makes you believe he is better than you. As such, the best Rodulate can hope for is appeasing salivating Vibert fans awaiting the next project (though only seven months after the Perrey project Moog Acid) and providing an introduction to a slice of history that might be better serviced by something like the Artificial Intelligence series or perhaps even a hypothetical Vibert “Best Of” sampler.
“Space Mist” is proto-Plug jungle that’s less affected and insistent. Hardly misty as its title implies, it gurgles and squishes like a satellite transmission received via a faulty channel. Its repetitive loops create only tepid tension though and nothing about the track shreds through your brain like the hyperspeed jet fuel of Drum N’ Bass For Papa.
“Open File” is Acieeed trying to deprogram itself, minimizing its clubby impact, but going nowhere in the process. Worse, the skronky tube percussion is turned up far too loud in the mix. Likewise, “Go to Sleep (Everything Is Alright)” samples Elvis singing the title and then sends him back reverberating into a cavernous echo chamber in the distant backdrop of melodic foreground that features some gratingly loud bleeps that probably seemed mighty annoying to those who could hear it as the lone thing spiking out my earphones when I was listening to the track this past week.
“Room 28 Rap” even finds the men trying their hand at hip-hop by taking a cheesy upbeat tempo to an even cheesier helium vocal and juxtaposing it with an inane high-pitched square wave riff. While it is a bit of a lark to hear the boys deliver lines like “We’ve got soul coming out of our cocks”, the whiteboy b-boy shtick borders on PWEI-style self-parody at times.
“Asteroid Blet” fares far greater on the other hand, despite enduring a couple minutes beyond its welcome. It is all L.F.O basslines and fuzzy noise boxes on a dark Phuturist bent, fucking with space and thereby your eardrums for eight minutes. “Rodulate” is another ace, an enormous subwoofer explosion carrying a tray of filthy alien synth dessert, as a slow-motion alarm whirrs to no avail over the spacecraft’s PA.
It’s perhaps of no great surprise though that the disc’s two best tracks are also its most experimental. “Rare Peel” begins as a vibraphone and music box affair, not unlike “Nannou” by James’s Aphex Twin project. The industrial drumming that comes in halfway through nearly kills the track, but the dubby bassline feels oddly apropos and helps it achieve a lingering beauty.
Contrasted to “Rare Peel” and its rare aesthetic appeal, “Story” is ominous concrete machinal hums and dizzied modulating keyboards that are far more Asmus Tietchens than Black Dog. The sinister strings circle like vultures around two young kids, a girl and her kid brother as they chat into a computer mic. “I’m only talking to big brother” she states at the start of the “Story”, assigning the role of “big brother” to the monster recording readying itself to envelope them both in the mix, eventually trapping their voices as a single loop urging themselves and us to “say something”. Right before that, the girl, unsatisfied with her brother’s timid self-expression for the microphone, goads him on: “How about saying something different?” For years, this was the question Vibert prematurely answered for fans by dispersing his brain onto myriad different projects that birthed innovative ideas and revitalized the past. Despite its mostly complete competence, the question begs to be asked with Rodulate, “Why now, when you could be saying something different?”