Since the early 90’s, British Techno duo, System 7, has been proving that techno is not yet a dead sub-genre of EDM. Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy, both former members of Gong, formed the duo after hearing Hillage’s 1979 record “Rainbow Dome Musick,” and soon took off in the London underground scene. While System 7 is primarily a two-piece, the duo has collaborated with such artists as Carl Craig, Laurent Garnier, and Alex Paterson (The Orb). They have released a plethora of albums in the UK including the well renowned “777” in 1993, and have started gaining more US attention since the mid-90’s. Their newest release, “Passion EP,” speaks both to UK and US audiences, and reflects a mature style over a decade in the making.
The opening track, “Passion,” enters with fluctuating LFOs wandering across the stereo plane, met by a woman’s voice stating “passion,” over and over again. Bring in a subdued beat and a thrumming bass line, sounding like raindrops on concrete, while synth strings play a quiet melody in the background. At 4 minutes, the loops drop out, and the space is filled with what sounds to be muted synth horns. The end of the track drops the beat and slowly expands into an ambient, hypnotic nothingness.
Overall, it’s a good piece of music. The track works well with one idea, building energy through adding and subtracting elements. On the other hand, it’s too long, and that, I believe, can be remedied in a dance club environment. I like where this album is going, but I fear it will drag for too long.
Track two, “The Eagle,” has a heavy percussive opening, using loops in a disjointed and disorienting fashion. Dissonant synth lines clash above the beat, creating a soundscape somewhere between Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk. It’s slow in development, subtly adding textures to the beat until the track transforms into what sounds like the hum and grind of a giant machine. At five minutes, enter a dreamy synth tone that offsets the harsh tone of the music. Layered melodies and odd metered beats create a dream-like tapestry of both thought and feeling. “The Eagle” reveals itself to be a subtle piece with a lot to give.
This is the first EDM track I’ve heard in a while that reached me emotionally. The way this song moves, the way it reveals its intention and design, is actually rather touching. There’s an energy arc that is focused on the intensity of listener immersion, and the peak of the track is euphoric and celebratory. A very impressive piece of music.
“Eclipse (System 7 club mix)” opens with a shower of synth tones, raining from highs to mids to lows. An acoustic hand drum along with an electronic drum machine establishes a simple beat. I’ll admit that I’m a little bored by this track. The redundant simplicity and cheesy guitar soloing is reminiscent of music heard while waiting in line at the DMV. It could have been five or six minutes and would’ve lost none of its worth. I think this track’s biggest problem is its failure to alter its elements in any markedly interesting manner, making the music feel static.
The last track, “Chihiro 61298 (Evan Marc Remix)” comes out swinging with its subdued, funky bass line, dashes of synth melody, and eerie synth moans in back. There’s evidence of jazz influence in the way the synth melodies interact with one another, almost as if in conversation. I could spend all afternoon describing the different instrumental elements put into this track, but that’d be marring its intention, which is to blend, to create an atmosphere so complex that it appears simple. Kudos to Evan Marc.
On the whole, “Passion EP” by System 7 is really an intelligent piece of work. It’s mature and complex, reviving the best parts of techno and merging it with modern synth technology. There are many subtle rhythmic and melodic elements that may be overlooked on first listen, but recognizing the details is almost not necessary, as they tend to blend with one another in a beautiful, ever-changing tapestry. On the other hand, most of the tracks go on for too long, making the translation from dance floor to iPod a bit awkward. But overall, I was impressed and will probably revisit this album in the future.