Deepchild - Neukölln Burning
Wed 12th Sep, 2012 Music Reviews 640 viewsin
For a while after the release of his Destinations LP on Australia’s Future Classic in 2008, the album that signaled his semi-permanent move to Berlin, Deepchild AKA Rick Bull felt rather ambivalent towards the thought of knuckling down to create another. “I didn’t really want to write another album any time soon,” Bull told inthemix last month. “It’s a pretty laborious experience. And I was wondering whether the format was even valid any more.”
It’s ironic then that nearly five years later, his followup Neukölln Burning is a testament to how powerful the album format can be, when used to its full impact to tell a bigger story; and not to mention, a striking example of how ideas and emotions can be communicated purely through sound.
A key idea explored by Bull in Neukölln Burning is how where we live impacts our inner world; his home and studio are situated in the trendy, bustling and multicultural district of Neukölln in the south east of Berlin, and it’s an area that is firmly woven into the album’s DNA. More importantly though, it’s a document of Bull’s own personal odyssey that he undertook during the depths of the Berlin winter, which he spontaneously chose as the time where he would wean himself off anti-depressive medication; his first in nearly a decade.
He’s been more than honest in unpacking and discussing the raw emotions that went into the recording process; “I plunged into utter panic, terror and disarray, a crazy meltdown suicidal panic attack, cold sweats… In the midst of which, I was trying to write music.” It’s raw stuff indeed, but those emotions go so deep to the core of the album, that knowledge of the backstory is nearly essential.
The monologue that’s sampled in the opener Doves in Michigan establishes neighbourhoods and surroundings as the musical point of discussion; two unidentified protagonists deliberate on what defines the neighborhoods they live in. The warm, melodic threads of the title track Neukölln Burning follows shortly, and draws you in gently on more of a lush house tip. The album is established as exploring some dark corners, while never veering towards the bleak or the hopeless.
Nonetheless, it’s still a creaky journey into the shadowy depths of Bull’s personal experiences, and Dirty Cutlery is when the darker shades begin to show. A dash of early-morning Berghain menace splashes quickly across the musical canvas, the groove established by a rolling bassline, though it’s quickly sliced and diced as harsh metallic stabs of sound enter the frame. There’s a pull to it that comes from the fact that it’s tailor-made for the darkened rooms of the afore mentioned Berin nightclub; though just as much, it still feels oddly personal.
The album’s first single Riyadh continues Bull’s journey into his darker depths, with an acidy baseline that’s gradually circled by ominous strands of percussion, before both are eventually joined by a stark techno melody, which gradually grows in sweetness and fullness. It’s also littered with various distorted voices and mutterings; they would have once sounded articulate and comprehensible, though that was before they’d been savaged by Bull’s studio equipment; neither here nor there, they communicate so much, while still telling you so little.
It’s actually an existing Deepchild trademark to pluck obscure Rn’B vocals, to then utterly distort them beyond recognition, before reintroducing them into his tracks, and it brings his music an odd yet alluring sense of mutant soul. However, it’s evolved into a particularly powerful sonic technique on Neukölln Burning; it’s as if tortured ghosts are chasing the listener at every step. You’ll never make out exactly what they’re saying, as if they’re flickering apparitions reaching out to connect, but never truly able to reach you.
This is consistent with how the album itself communicates its themes; they’re ever present, yet we’re always held back from accessing all of his experiences, and never given all the answers. Often lyrics are the medium through which personal experiences are communicated in music, so to pull this off purely via the avenue of dancefloor techno is no mild feat at all.
The 4/4 beats evaporate during Chicago Train as the album slinks into a gentle lull, allowing time to breathe and reflect; though it’s simply the launching pad for Want, the emotional peak of the album and the most straightforward, driving club track here. Opening with shimmering dashes of melody, dark stabs of acid begin to puncture the mix, which themselves morph into the song’s main melodic motif. Bull pulls it all back in the middle like a rubber band, before letting it go with a sudden flash of melody, and reestablishing the groove.
There’s glimmers of hope throughout the rest of Neukölln Burning, before things close on a decidedly harsh note with Perimeter of Release, as if Bull has taken the listener and thrown them onto the streets of the Berlin winter. All these threads pull together in a journey that’s he’s rightly described it as the most unified recording that he’s made to date.
Neukölln Burning is that rare electronic album that will not only engage the dancefloor, but just as equally engage your emotions, and Bull has somehow managed to lay bare his personal experiences, in a way that’ll require you to really dive deep to access its hidden treasures. After ten listens, you’ll still just be scratching the surface.
Deepchild describes the recording process as a cathartic exercise; “an experiment in transforming a sense of claustrophobia and uncertainty into something ultimately hopeful, visceral, perhaps even seductive.” These are fires that are worth hurling yourself into.