Diego Martinez has been active as Lumen Lab for half a lifetime, shifting Mexico’s underground electronic music scene into new and varied dimensions well outside its established comfort zones since starting out at the age of fifteen in 2000. Drawing on an evident love of hardcore punk and the many and varied forms that dance music has taken in its long journey from techno into something altogether more mutated, They Are Killing Us is his most assured and powerful release to date.
Bristling with invention and a righteous political anguish at the state that Mexico finds itself in as a result of the never-ending internecine war over drugs, They Are Killing Us is also often not quite as dark as a title which speaks volumes of Martinez’ view of the tribulations of his nation might at first lead one to believe. Chock full of chiptune riffing, heavy bass slides and breakneck percussion, Lumen Lab’s third studio album is whipped up into a roiling interface between grindcore, gabba and leftfield electronica. There are stops, starts, switches and sways from rhythm to groove to inchoate rage deployed with the assurance of an Alec Empire or Venetian Snares — without sounding specifically like either at any particular named point, though the touchstones that each has established are well and truly present.Shuddering walls of delayed glitches slam headfirst into one-two drum rhythms and surges of analogue drone and what sounds like processed feedback cut-ups are dealt out with a keen sense of vitriol on tracks such as anarcho-grinder “Sin Gobierno” (“No Government”). Stutters of synth filter switches ripple and wobble in just the way that the mainstreamed bastardisation of dubstep has forgotten how to — with passion, anger, heavy, heavy dread and spine-tingling digital frissons let rip among the deft sound sculpting. There’s more than a touch of Squarepusher‘s bravura repurposing and amplification of established forms (in this case a brass sample twisted over a spasming loop) to the frenetic “Force”, while the blistering churn of “Balas Como Autos” (“Bullets Like Cars”) is as likely to get dancefloors pogoing as raving hard like loons to its non-stop whirl of beats and bleeps.
Martinez’ lightness of touch means that if he’s going to tweak those knobs and splay the sequencer open wide, it’s to be done at an extreme that still manages to remain both palatable and energetic. Vocals are handled by Chano (Hydrophobia, Emphysema), who brings his distinctly unhappy hardcore grunts and wails to the fore on an album that goes well beyond the breakcore template and into spaces altogether more varied and variegated; and Diego’s brother and occasional Lumen Lab member Israel Martinez (they’ve both worked together in the past with the indomitable KK Null on the 2013 album Terra Incognita) joins in the fun too. They Are Killing Us offers a distinctive take on how to blend and regurgitate styles aplenty, and the by no means constant mashing up of crust punk and dubstep works far better than some of the anaemic commercial metalcore remixes that have manifested over the years.But it’s not all about the ire and LFO ripples, as concluding track “Paraíso” demonstrates; but if this is Lumen Lab’s vision of paradise, then it also sounds like a deracinated landscape swathed in mournful brass among a cyclical melange of atrophied dub arrhythmia. The end comes in more optimistic terms, as a low-end grumble slinks moodily into mocking swatches of enthusiastic applause and a cheerily echoed groove plays out the album with something approaching a hesitant disbelief that maybe there can be a better world.