Dub is the very beating heart of music made with electric bass and drums, the low end and rhythm pared back to bare essentials as the bedrock of form, then modified with various levels of drenching in echo and other effects. It’s no wonder that a technique developed most prominently in Jamaica in the 1970s went on to enhance and then pretty much take over huge areas of electronic and other music production, especially given the reliance on machines tied to and working within the limitations of the sequencer and its inbuilt tendency towards repetition, much as King Tubby or Lee Perry took the bare backing tracks of a thousand reggae tunes and turned them into head trips of a particularly inventive sort.
Automat, while paying homage to the form, are of that certain kind of band (see also The Dub Trio et al) who like to play their dub live, shaping the influence of dub reggae and minimal techno alongside their own background in avantgarde music of all sorts: Jochen Arbeit in Die Haut and Einstürzende Neubauten; Georg Huber AKA Zeitblom with Sovetskoe Foto and Achim Färber in Parg and Project Pitchfork. This has certainly shaped their approach to making music together (see also last year’s more variegated début album for a different approach to playing together, with guest vocalists aplenty) and stands them in good stead here as they unleash eight tracks of unrelenting heavyweight post-industrial bass music.
Blake Worrell‘s gruff vocalisations infest the title track, for instance, providing a necessary if fleeting human connection (albeit a repetitive, robot-emulating one) to the otherwise all-instrumental, hurtling groove, Arbeit’s guitar looping into metronomic counterpoint to Färber and Zeitblom’s chugging rhythm section while electronic swoops lift the neck hackles in preparation for the next step up of the onward propulsive ride. It’s all good head-nodding stuff, the trio seizing attention and whirling it off in an infectious combination of swing and a hint of swagger.
Throughout Plusminus there’s a warm (and oftentimes fuzzy) analogue feeling which comes in part from the studio itself, Candy-Bomber in Berlin, where the trio sought out specific vintage effects units and sound processing tools, each track being named after a favourite or significant pice of kit that they used during the album’s recoding, such as the Eventide H190 harmonizer. The harder-edged techno-inflected sound of Berlin dubbers like the Basic Channel or Pharma labels are never far away either, as encountered on the bleepier trills and hiss of “SST 282” (naturally, dubbed thusly in honour of the Space Station signal processor) or among the surging electronic incursions of “EMT 140”, named for a two-metre long plate reverb effect unit used during its recording, and a feature of David Bowie‘s Low. Geekier listeners will likewise appreciate the reference to the “DMX 15-80 S” delay, and the track which shares its name certainly makes good use of its echoic properties.
Plusminus manages the difficult trick of fitting neatly within one tradition while also stepping out into another, but bringing enough of Automat’s own particular essence along with them. No-one could mistake this for a classic dub reggae album, nor for a slice of dub techno neither, but it’s evident in every dropped echo and languorous bass slide, in each twanged string and with the flutter of every hissing electronic sussurus that Automat know their way around each and more in loving detail.